Fitzgerald Hinds: Off-duty prison officers to be allowed weapons

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, left. FILE PHOTO –

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said under the Firearms (Amendment) Act, 2022, the Commissioner of Prisons can grant permission to an off-duty prisons officer to have a firearm or ammunition if the Commissioner feels the life or safety of the officer is under threat.

He said concomitant with this, officers will be issued a Firearm User Identification Card, rather than a Firearm Users License booklet.

“The card is necessary as an FUL book can become impractical. We will introduce a firearm user ID card similar in size to ID cards, which will allow for more security features than are available in the booklet. This will include the firearms users licence number, the name, address, and photograph of the licence holder, and any other electronic security features and measures the Commissioner sees fit.”

He said criminals do not hesitate to target citizens without thinking twice, including not just ordinary citizens, but also law enforcement officials, including police officers, municipal police, and in recent times, prison officers.

“Some prison officers have been mercilessly gunned down by these criminal elements. Our law enforcement officers risk their lives to protect all of us as citizens, our properties, the country at large, the investors property in TT, and therefore this government, recognising it is our duty to make laws to protect the peace, order, and good governance in TT, and it is incumbent upon us we consider to effect laws which can afford such officers protection against these criminal elements. They are at risk

“In TT there is no inherent or constitutional right for anyone to carry a firearm. Thousands of people are permitted to carry, purchase, and have firearms in their possession only if they have the requisite license prescribed by the Firearms Act. It sets out the specific people allowed to be in possession of a firearm without a license since the use of a firearm can be regarded as integral to the performance of such person’s duties and can offer protection should the need arise.”

He said situations could arise where the provisions of the act were not wide enough to protect certain people in circumstances where their lives are at risk as a direct consequence of their jobs.

“Hence the need arises to make urgent amendments to our laws in an urgent effort to control crime and criminality and to save lives. One of the critical aims of this bill is to provide a mechanism to afford statutory protection to certain officers by allowing them to have in their possession government-issued firearms and ammunition at specific times when there exists an imminent threat for their safety and the lives of others.”

Hinds said based on previous incidents, prison officers have been gunned down while off duty. He said between January 2021 and December 2022, 88 prison officers had reported receiving threats, with 16 being murdered over the last ten years. He said prison officers often receive threats in the course of their duties, as prisoners see them as oppressors.

Hinds said Clause 5 of the Bill amended the Firearms Act to allow municipal police to carry pepper spray and tasers.

He said under the amendment, people whose firearm and ammunition are the property of government and are required in the performance of their duty can now include a police officer; a member of a municipal police service within the meaning of Part III of the Municipal Corporations Act; a member of the Defence Force; a customs officer; a prison officer; the Director, Strategic Services Agency established under the Strategic Services Agency Act; or an employee designated by the Director, Strategic Services Agency.