Union leader: Police ready to go where needed — Cops back Tobago crime-fight

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Gideon Dickson –

HEAD of the Police Social and Welfare Association (TTPSSWA) Gideon Dickson says officers and the organisation are in support of the move to deploy Trinidad-based officers in Tobago, but there are some logistic issues to consider if the plan is to become permanent.

On July 9, hours after Tobago recorded its first-ever quadruple murder, when the last of four victims in a shooting in Black Rock died, Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher announced several initiatives she believed would stem the increasing number of violent crimes being perpetrated on the island.

Those included additional officers from the Guard and Emergency Branch and the Inter-Agency Task Force, CCTV cameras, intelligence-gathering from the cybercrime unit and additional forensic resources.

The murders took the island’s 2024 murder total to 16 – two more than the 2023 record high.

At a media briefing after a National Security Council meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Service, in Scarborough, the Prime Minister called on Tobagonians to work with the police officers who will be deployed from Trinidad to help fight crime.

Dr Rowley urged the people of Tobago to view the operation as beneficial rather than a violation of their rights, as he noted approximately 90 per cent of the police officers in Tobago were Tobagonians, and while that had advantages, it also had drawbacks, owing to “familiarity.”

Dickson said from his information, officers were eager to go, as the plan was communicated to them early and they bought into the strategy.

“Persons are seeing it as an opportunity to contribute to what is happening across there in a positive way. So persons are getting an opportunity and weighing in as to whether they can make it and in what field they will be able to go across and make their contribution.”

Asked how officers are being selected, he explained the senior superintendents at the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) were responsible for selecting and rotating officers.

Pressed further on the selection process and if, for example, family arrangements will be considered, Dickson said, “I can tell you all variables are being taken into consideration.”

He said he was not in a position to speak on the allowances or costs involved and directed those questions to the Office of the CoP, but confirmed officers would be compensated additionally.

“The officers will be paid both for the time away from their family and for their time on the ground.”

He said he did not know the exact number of officers being sent and added, for operational reasons, he did not feel it should be disclosed.

Newsday understands, though, while the exact number of officers currently stationed in Tobago remains uncertain, there are 130 officers fewer than the sanctioned strength.

A senior officer confirmed to Newsday that police operations in Tobago were “severely understaffed.

“We are not at full capacity and if they are thinking about sending additional boots on the ground, it will be a welcome initiative. It will put us closer to where we want to be and where we are supposed to be, based on what is supposed to be the sanctioned strength.”

Speaking on CNC3’s Morning Brew programme on July 10, Dickson noted the violence on the island began to increase earlier this year and described the plan to send additional officers as “positive.”

“I must commend those in authority for the initiative to try to redeploy some resources to Tobago. And it has begun since about May of this year. I know resources have been redeployed in terms of the IATF and the GEB going up there and providing a layer of support to the residing officers in Tobago. This ought to continue over the next couple of months.”

Dickson said, though, there are logistical issues to consider, as officers are staying at a TTPSSWA building in the short term.

“When we were engaged in relation to this initiative by the commissioner, we as an association saw it as a positive move for a temporary purpose and as such, our building in Tobago, we provided it as a haven or as a place (where) the officers can in fact be located and deployed to go and treat with the issues that are impacting Tobago.”

He said officers were satisfied with the accommodation, which is being paid for by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

“The THA is also playing their part to ensure that this arrangement works. They are assisting with the interim accommodation and they pay the rental for that.”

He said if the plan, as it seems to him, is to make the relocation “more permanent,” then alternative accommodation must be sourced.

“If the intention is to go long term, then the authorities will also have to look at getting another place or other settings for officers to be redeployed.

“The building that the association owns is in the western part of the island and you are seeing crime taking place throughout the length and breadth of Tobago, so you would need to also redeploy resources.”

Dickson added there were several measures which he believed could be implemented to enhance the effectiveness of the additional officers.

He suggested vehicle scanners be implemented at the ports and better scanning of people travelling across to Tobago by air.

“That needs to be taken into serious consideration. It might cause some inconvenience to commuters. However, it will be a deterrent to those with the criminal mind who are getting in and out of Tobago rather easily and without any resistance at this point in time.

“Together with the CCTV and the cybercrime, it is important that we have the scanners.”We also need to redeploy some of our sniffer dogs at the port and at the airport in a more meaningful way to be able to address what is taking place in Tobago at this point in time.”

Dickson said this, coupled with proper co-ordination of resources, is the best way to “bring about a level of safety and safe haven” in Tobago.

“Every single unit in Tobago needs to work together. It is not the Inter Agency Task Force and Guard and Emergency acting in silos, compared to the divisional commander and their troops and all other law-enforcement agencies across Tobago.

“It is about time all the entities, through some system of operation, come together, assess critically, share information and approach the situation that is before Tobago strategically. It is not just having presence, it is utilising the presence for a particular outcome.”