Cops against ad-hoc policy on FUL renewals for service members

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney Nyree Alfonso – ROGER JACOB

The Police Social and Welfare Association says it rejects any policy “constructed in an ad-hoc response to incidents capturing national attention that can be otherwise remedied or mitigated against.”

This was the association’s latest position in response to a change in firearm user’s licences (FUL) rules for service members

In a January 9 departmental order, Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher rescinded a 2007 order that exempted serving members of the protective service, Defence Force, Customs and Cadets from providing a certificate of competence, certificate of character and a medical certificate for renewals.

The new order came after several servicemen, from the police, Defence Force and prisons, were charged with criminal offences, including murder.

The order also followed a move by the commissioner to change the renewal process for long-standing FUL holders. This has been challenged by at least two FUL holders, including attorney Nyree Alfonso, who has questioned the legality of the move and has asked Harewood-Christopher to suspend the new requirements.

In two notices to members over the weekend, the TTPSWA said while it was open to supporting issues and participating in the formation of solutions with all stakeholders in the interest of its members and the police service, it had “critically analysed” the new departmental order change and its impact on affected officers.

It said it was against any ad-hoc policy and offered suggestions on the renewal process for police officers.

The association said it disagreed with and rejected the decision which suggested that training or retraining would result in anything other than business opportunities for those in private practice. It also said it fully supported the 2007 departmental order which, it said, was “done with logic, rationale, reasoning and the full understanding that law enforcement officers by the nature of their duties will have a level of firearm experience that is above the average citizen.”

In an earlier notice to members on the new process, the association said it had engaged the commissioner and offered its recommendations also asking for the wording of the new order to be revisited, since it was not in sync with the 2007 order.

The 2024 order now requires all active members of the protective service to get a certificate of competence from a licensed firearms instructor, a certificate of character and a medical report. Previously, they got automatic renewals every three years and were not required to go through the same process as private citizens.

Among the TTPSWA’s recommendations is that they should not be required to obtain a certificate of character, for the police hospital to provide medical certification and to engage internal units in the certification and recertification process.

At the start of the year, the CoP announced that all FUL holders had to renew their permits, including those who were issued FULs before 2004, when the Firearms Act was amended.

On Friday, Alfonso again called on the commissioner to hold her hand on the new policy for renewals.

She accused the commissioner of “putting the proverbial cart before the horse.”

Alfonso pointed to Section 17(6) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act, which says FULs granted before the passage of the legislation in 2004 will remain valid unless terminated or revoked.

Police Service legal officer Anya Ramute-Mohan promised to issue an official response to Alfonso’s concerns by February 1. She said the commissioner was seeking legal advice.

Alfonso expressed surprise at the admission that the commissioner was seeking advice, describing it as astounding. She also said her request for a short deadline was necessary since the deadline for the renewal process was April.

“It would be most astounding if, as you seem to be now averring, the Commissioner of Police proceeded to issue substantive notices affecting a wide cross-section of the public, as well as various internal departmental orders, without the benefit of legal advice,” she said.

““It would indeed be extraordinary if the country’s top law enforcement officer were to be actively engaged in encouraging FUL holders to take illegal and wrongful steps in relation to the licensing regime which governs the ownership and use of their firearms.

“I again call upon the Commissioner of Police to act in a manner which would have the desirable effect of preserving the integrity of her office” she added.