Police Commissioner Erla Christopher at the TTPS centennial sports and family day, Police Training Academy, St James on Saturday. – Jeff Mayers
FORMER commissioner of police (CoP) Gary Griffith on Sunday slammed CoP Erla Harewood-Christopher for her claim that 100 legal guns have been used in crimes.
Harewood-Christopher made the claim in a sworn statement filed in the High Court two weeks ago, in response to a lawsuit of gun dealer Towfeek Ali who is seeking permission to import ammunition.
She raised serious national security concerns and the stability of the country over such imports, the poor accounting records of guns and ammunition imported, the possession of “military-grade” guns and 5.56 and 7.62 ammunition in the hands of civilians which can pierce wood, concrete, metal and body armour worn by police.
Harewood-Christopher disclosed incomplete statistics between 2016-2022 which show the quantity of guns and ammunition imported by gun dealers for “non-law enforcement purposes” skyrocketed with an all-time high in 2020 of 57.2 million rounds, “almost 44 times the population” of TT. Some 306 permits were approved allowing gun dealers to bring in 64,553 guns that year; in 2021 the number of import permits went down to 115 allowing dealers to bring in 43,557 guns and 18,899,000 rounds of ammunition, and in 2022 only 35 import permits were approved allowing dealers to bring in 2,701 guns and 8,676,746 rounds of ammunition.
In a statement, Griffith, who is now National Transformation Alliance (NTA) political leader, described Harewood-Christopher’s claim as “disingenuous, deceitful, deceptive.”
He accused the top cop, who recently received a one-year extension of her contract, of singing for her supper and following the failed narrative of certain politicians about legal firearms and crime.
Griffith said, “We challenge Erla to list the crimes, because we are sure it would be items such as negligent discharge by officers, where several occur a year, and being ‘involved’, when FUL(firearm user licence) holders used their legal firearm to fight back when they are victims of crime.”
He said with some 20 thousand crimes committed a year, and the report which Harewood-Christopher referred to spans over ten years, “this means it’s actually 100 ‘crimes’ in 200,000, which is 0.05 per cent of crimes she chose to focus on.
Harewood-Christopher, Griffith continued,”fails to grasp that revealing the amount of ammunition a FUL holder is legally allowed to own, perhaps puts them in danger from attacks by the criminals who may now target holders.”
Griffith urged Harewood-Christopher to use her “one year extension, which no one can revoke, to do her job dispassionately, without fear or favour, and in accordance with her sworn oath of protecting and serving all the citizens of TT.”
He reiterated his disappointment that Harewood-Christopher ought to know better in light of matters such as the Brent Thomas “abduction” and the Prime Minister and the National Security Council (NSC) being blocked by the court from laying the FUL audit report in Parliament.
Attorney Nyree Alfonso, one of the attorneys in the matter with the CoP and a director of the Firearms Training Institute, also commented on Harewood-Christopher’s claim.
“This thing about 100 legal guns being used in crime. The commissioner hasn’t made an attempt to disaggregate at all, whether she is speaking of the licensed firearm holders or firearms users employee certificate holders.
Alfonso said the latter includes private security guards and licensed FUL holders who used their guns to protect themselves and their relatives from criminals.
“If I shoot somebody in the circumstances of defending myself, I trust that would not be counted as a murder.”
Alfonso doubted that any substantial numbers of legal firearms would be used in crimes.
Legally issued firearms being lost or stolen is common, she said. She said if a legal gun turns up on a crime scene “that does not mean that the legal owner was involved in crime.”
She said it was unlikely 100 legal firearms were used in crime under the tenures of former CoP’s Griffith, McDonald Jacob and Stephen Williams.
Alfonso said many more illegal guns have been used to commit crime.
She also did not understand the connection between the number of legally issued firearms and the amount of ammunition that licensed FUL holders have.
“No attempt is being made to say we have a lot of crime in TT because Firearms Training or Brent Thomas or Elite Tactical have stocks of ammunition.”
She said there is no allegation that stores of guns and ammunition held by entities legally empowered to stock them were stolen and are now in the hands of criminals.
Alfonso wondered if this was a case of some people being allowed to import ammunition into TT, while others cannot. She said under an amendment to the Firearms Act, the CoP can keep a firearms register for legally imported firearms and ammunitions.
Senior police sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the information provided by Harewood-Christopher to the court was not new.
They said this information is contained in the FUL audit report.
“It just so happened in this case, they brought it out.”
The source said, “That information was not generated yesterday or a month ago.”
A second source said, “That information was revealed coming out of analytical work done on the various reports since in the latter part of last year.”
A third source added that this information could not have been disclosed earlier because of the court’s order with respect to revealing the contents of the FUL report.
Newsday attempted to reach Dr Rowley to comment on the commissioner’s revelations and if it justified government’s approach to dealing with the use of guns, legal or illegal, to commit crimes. He did not respond to the questions sent to him although they appeared to have been read on WhatsApp.