Cops ordered to show their faces

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo by Roger Jacob

POLICE officers in tactical or operational wear have been ordered not to wear balaclavas with it, in an effort to combat criminals dressed in what appears to be police tactical uniforms.

At the police weekly media briefing on Thursday, acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Wendell Williams, who is in charge of investigations and intelligence, said the decision was taken after several incidents in which men dressed as police committed offences.

“Some of the garments that have been worn are pretty close to, if not identical to the police-issued (gear), so that remains a challenge. It’s a challenge that requires a standard across the board, rather than approaching with a sort of piecemeal arrangement.”

As a result, she said, “On the commissioner’s instructions, any police unit – whether it’s a single police officer, or a patrol, or a party of officers carrying out confrontation, whether the search warrant, what have you – as of today, police officers will not be using balaclavas.”

Williams said that in many instances men dressed as police committing crimes wore balaclavas. He added that the face covering offers little protection against covid19 and therefore there is no medical reason to use it, adding that there will be uniformity in the masks worn by police.

He reiterated that police officers in tactical or operational wear will be chaperoned by an officer in normal uniform, which is a grey shirt and blue pants for men ,and all-blue shirt and skirt for women. He reminded the public that police officers are also supposed to wear police-issued badges to help distinguish legitimate police officers from criminals.

Williams said there is no evidence as yet to suggest the clothing used by criminals is indeed police-issued, although there is a close resemblance. These measures, he said, are to comfort the public.

“This will be maintained as we take steps to bring order back to what seems to be a prevailing situation that is certainly uncomfortable for us, and I appreciate how uncomfortable it is for the public.”

The most recent incident of fake police committing crimes was on Wednesday evening, when two police officers thwarted the kidnapping of a businessman who was being snatched by men in what appeared to be police tactical wear. The incident turned into a shootout between legitimate police and the criminals, who escaped after the police vehicle’s right front tyre was punctured during the shootout. The intended victim and his vehicle were rescued.

Commenting on this, Williams, while applauding the officers for their observation in recognising something was awry, chided them for what he said was their “lacklustre” approach. But he said he was taking the good out of the situation and commended the officers for approaching the criminals.

“I look at that as a good thing, because we want more of that. We want more confrontation – we don’t really want gun battles, but we want the opportunity to detect who are the police.”