Two more officers suing Police Commissioner over promotions

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo by Lincoln Holder

POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher is again under the gun over the recent promotions debacle as she is being sued by two more police officers.

They have received the court’s permission to pursue their judicial review claim in which they seek to have the commissioner release the scores of all officers on the order of merit list, which led to hundreds of constables being promoted in September 2023.

On February 5, Justice Jacqueline Wilson granted leave to constables David Hall and Mervyn Murray, who say the release of the scores used to generate the merit list is important to preserve the integrity of the recent promotion process.

Already, over 100 police officers have threatened similar legal action over the recent promotion exercise while others have approached the courts at various stages to get their scores.

On February 1, the president of the Police Service Social and Welfare Association (PSSWA), acting ASP Gideon Dickson, wrote Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher, saying members were “angered, frustrated and demotivated” over promotions to the rank of corporal. He said there were between 897 and 1,736 affected officers.

After legal threats, Harewood-Christopher agreed to stop promotions.

At the centre of the officers’ grouse are two merit lists containing the names of 2,342 constables. Some 861 were promoted in September. There are 1,200 available spots for the rank of corporal.

After the September 2023 promotions, aggrieved officers raised their concerns and it was disclosed there was a “glitch” in producing that merit list. A new comparative merit list was then generated.

Hall and Murray are represented by attorneys Keron Ramkhalwhan, Shalini Sankar and Annesia Gunnes.

In his application, Hall said he was placed at 1,736 on the earlier list. He said he received information about errors on that list, so he sought to get the individual scores of each officer on the list and his own.

He was refused the latter. Hall was told his request was “unreasonable” and involved sensitive and personal information of others.

However, he insists there is nothing unreasonable about his request, especially since a large number of police officers have disputed the integrity of the list.

In his lawsuit, Hall says before 2012, merit lists were disclosed and that was stopped for no reason.

“The disclosure would alleviate public concerns over police competency and allow for better scrutiny, especially in these times of high crime rates…The public relies on the police for safety and protection and ought to know that the police are able and qualified to protect and serve,” he added.

Murray’s lawsuit reiterates the same contention and adds that by disclosing the individual scores, any suspicion of favouritism in promotion would be removed.

“The disclosure of the individual scores of each officer would improve the morale of the officers as they would have confidence that promotions are merit-based with a transparent process and if they harboured any doubt, action would be taken to remove such doubt.”

Both matters have been fixed for a virtual hearing on April 8.

Later this month, another judge is expected to rule on police departmental orders which is also rooted in the promotion debacle.

A possible consequence of that ruling would be that the entire process would have to be scrapped.

In his letter to the commissioner, the president of the PSSWA said his members had mandated the association’s executive to get a report from the DCP Administration on the admitted “glitch” in generating the merit list and the raw scores from all the officers who went before the Promotion Advisory Board.

Dickson said the association’s members also want to know if any investigation on the “glitch” was done, who did the investigation and what was the cause of the “glitch.”

They also want to know what the police service would be doing with the 897-1,735 officers on the merit list and if they would be promoted, how soon and if their promotions would be retroactive.

Dickson also asked about the 29 officers who were erroneously promoted in September 2023.

It was also the association’s recommendation that the scores be released, the promotion of the 29 officers be rescinded, an independent investigation be undertaken and the creation of additional vacancies.