Individuals charged with firearm-related offences such as possession of illegal arms and ammunition have been granted licences for legal firearms.
All Firearm Users Licences (FULs) are signed off on by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith.
An 11-month Sunday Express investigation has revealed these licences have been granted despite recommendations against them from officers tasked with probing whether individuals fit the criteria to have a Provisional Licence (PL) or Firearm Users Licence.
Several people who are now holders of legal licences are under active police investigation and currently before the courts charged with criminal offences.
A PL authorises the holder to discharge a firearm at a specific shooting range for the purpose of training in the use of the firearm. It expires two months from the date of issue, following which the holder can apply for a FUL.
A FUL authorises its holder to be in legal possession of a registered firearm and ammunition.
The Sunday Express also uncovered instances where applicants were issued PLs and FULs, but did not have the prerequisites such as a Certificate of Good Character, which is issued by the T&T Police Service.
One such instance uncovered during the Sunday Express investigation showed that on November 4, 2019, a recommendation attached to a file was dispatched by the Superintendent of the South-Western Division regarding a 53-year-old businessman.
The recommendation stated, “Commissioner of Police, the applicant is currently under investigation by the Financial Intelligence Unit and the South-Western Division Gang Unit. He was also arrested for trafficking marijuana and cocaine in a Caribbean island. The application is not recommended.”
The businessman in question made an application for a PL on August 10, 2019. He was approved for the PL by Griffith on September 4, 2020, to use a revolver, pistol and shotgun.
Checks by the Sunday Express revealed the businessman is currently before the courts on matters which include:
1. May 15, 2010 — larceny;
2. November 8, 2019 — possession of ammunition;
3. November 8, 2019 — unlawful possession of ammunition;
4. November 8, 2019 — possession of a prohibited animal.
The businessman was also arrested in Venezuela in connection with cocaine trafficking. He was subsequently released.
The Sunday Express understands it is not the practice where a file which carries “not recommended” is overturned by the Commissioner given the reasons why the application is not recommended.
Additionally, in five separate instances, reports were made to police stations within the Western, Central and Southern Divisions by spouses of businessmen who alleged they were physically assaulted and threatened by their husbands in 2017 and 2018. All five businessmen were granted FULs in 2019.
The Sunday Express investigation revealed several business owners had their FUL applications fast-tracked, and these businesses are also donors which have signed on to the I Support Our Service (ISOS) initiative of Griffith and his wife, Nicole, which was launched last year.
It involves businesses pledging support such as discounted prices for police officers or providing tangible items to the TTPS.
Freedom of Information application blocked
As part of this investigation, the Sunday Express made a request on October 3, 2019, to the TTPS under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking, among other things, “The number of firearm licences granted from August 2018 to present and; to which sector of society, eg, businessmen; private citizens”.
At the time, the request was made based on information obtained by the Sunday Express.
By letter dated November 26, 2019, the request was denied by attorney Christian Chandler, the TTPS’s legal head.
An application by the Sunday Express for judicial review of the TTPS’s decision was decided upon before Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh on September 2, who ruled “it ought to be possible for the numbers of persons by categories of occupation to be provided.
“In such circumstances, this matter will be referred back to the defendant to provide such information on categories of persons as may be gleaned from the occupations stated on the application forms.
“There can be no public interest exemption taken in this regard for merely providing the categories of persons who obtained them.”
Griffith was critical of the ruling, saying in a news release: “So now, hundreds of manpower hours will be spent, and dozens of police will be deployed to extract data and do research instead of doing real police work... just because the Express wants the information under the FOIA.”
The Commissioner has appealed the ruling.
At a weekly police news conference on June 2, 2019, Sgt David Swanson of the TTPS Firearms Section said Griffith had seen it fit to take the lead to address the challenges faced by the Firearms Section by utilising a hands-on approach to efficiently and effectively deal with all applications, both current and pending.
Swanson said then that people who submitted applications between 2004 and 2010 needed to provide the unit with up-to-date documentation, including certificates of good character, psychometric evaluations, change of address and passport-sized photographs.
He further explained people with pending applications made before 2004 would have had to reapply as the application forms had been altered in that year.
Swanson had indicated in order to “fast-track” the investigation and approval of applicants, Griffith had provided additional staff and resources to the unit.
In addition to the amendments to the application process, Griffith also increased the limit of the ammunition that can be held by a licence holder from 25 rounds to 40 rounds.
“The authority lies solely with the Commissioner of Police and it must be clearly stated that there is not a cost attached to the application for and the granting of a firearm user licence with exception to the annual licence fee,” Swanson had said.
On December 19, 2019, Griffith, via a news release, advised against paying anyone, including police officers, to secure a FUL, warning this will not assist in fast-tracking the application.
Griffith said he has been made aware that numerous people have claimed to know certain senior police officers who had promised to assist them in securing their FULs.
“...There are those who have been claiming to have ‘good’ links in the FUL Department of the TTPS or links with senior officers... the Firearms Section and the Office of Commissioner of Police adhere to a strict process for approving and issuing FULs,” the release noted.
The TTPS stated approximately 423 applications were approved for the period August 2017 to July 2018. Between August 2018 and December 19, 2019, 1,887 FUL applications were approved.