Cops: Landlords could face the music over prostitution at rented properties

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

ASP Leon Haynes, right, speaks as DCP Curt Simon looks on during a media conference at the Police Administration Building on Sackville Street, Port of Spain, on Thursday. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Senior police are urging landlords to make it their business to know what tenants do at their properties, as they too could face consequences for illegal activities there.

Responding to Newsday’s questions at the weekly police media briefing on Sackville Street, Port of Spain, on Thursday, ASP Leon Haynes of the Multi Agency Task Force said landlords and property owners had a responsibility to be aware what happens at their properties and take the necessary action to stop criminality.

Haynes said not knowing what happened at their rented properties was not a good defence, as they could also be held responsible once there was evidence to suggest they were involved.

“There would be an onus on us (the police) to prove that he has knowledge (of what goes on) if he is seen on the premises. But it’s not a simple defence in the Sexual Offences Act, owning a brothel, to deny having knowledge of the activities there, because you are the owner. When we are looking to do our investigations one of the key persons or subjects in that investigation is the owner….You cannot just be the owner of a building, rent it out and say, ‘Whatever happens there happens there.'”

Haynes said one of the focuses of the Multi Agency Task Force was to root out prostitution, saying it had closed seven brothels in Port of Spain, Chaguanas, Freeport and San Fernando since its formation in 2018 up to 2022.

He said while the police have made efforts to crack down on prostitution in the past, it was difficult to prove these activities in a brothel, as prostitution was defined as the exchange of money for a sexual act.

Haynes said it was difficult to prove this in a brothel, as the exchange of cash was not usually directly between those involved.

He said the police, through the Multi Agency Task Force, have since partnered with the fire service, the Customs and Excise Division, health inspectors, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) and the Bureau of Standards to clamp down on brothels from multiple angles.

“We will not repeat the same way all the time, we will try to find other avenues to achieve the objectives and we will constantly be evaluating the way forward and if we need another state agency, we will ask them to come in. We will be constantly adapting our method to keep pace with what the other side (criminals) are doing.

“You will find that most of the time, these brothels or hotels were never structured or designed in the manner in which they are now operating. Some restaurants started to have rooms and started to do other things. These buildings were never so designed (for this purpose). So when OSHA and electrical inspectors visit these places, we had identified so many serious breaches, in terms of safety, that most occasions, the OSHA was able to issue prohibitation orders.”

Thus if the police can find other solutions like closing the premises for safety reasons, “We can stop the activity,” he said.

Asked if there were concerns about reports of police being involved in “taxing” brothels, Haynes said the work of his unit would not be disrupted by corrupt officers, as instructions were passed on directly from an assistant commissioner or deputy commissioner of police.

Responding to questions over allegations of human trafficking involving certain public officials, Simon said the enquiry was still ongoing.

“You would realise that the allegations they are new you would also want to consider that the nature of these types of investigations are quite extensive and intricate so the update that I can give is that the investigation is still ongoing.

“It’s at its early stages despite the set of intelligence that we may have as it relates to that.”