Police Commissioner Gary Griffith has urged all victims of domestic violence to call 999 for an immediate response as he took issue with the manner in which a victim was treated when she called 800-SAVE.
880-SAVE (7283) is a 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline to report incidents of domestic and gender violence. It falls under the purview of the Office of the Prime Minister and is supposed to provide counselling services, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate agencies such as the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the Victim and Support Unit of the TTPS, the National Family Services, the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, Lifeline or the Rape Crisis Society.
Referrals can also be made for directing the victim to a place of safety or a shelter.
Griffith claimed yesterday a victim called 800-SAVE for help and was told by the responder that they are busy and to “call back in five minutes”.
The top cop said this was brought to his attention and he took it upon himself to call 800-SAVE.
“I called 800-SAVE to find out what had transpired because this is not the procedure we need for matters of domestic violence because, at times, this could be a life-and-death situation; you don’t tell people to call back,” said Griffith.
He said he was told this is how the 800-SAVE system operates.
“This is not the appropriate response and support the police needs.... They confirmed that is exactly what happened and the co-ordinator told me that I need to understand how this works, and I told her that is irresponsible and that is not the appropriate type of system needed to treat with domestic violence,” he said.
To make matters worse, Griffith said the victim called back 800-SAVE and was told she should contact the Belmont Police Station for help or call back the Commissioner.
“This is not how a system that treats with sensitive issues is supposed to work. This is not an acceptable format,” said Griffith.
He said he is aware when people call 999, there are also challenges, but he intends to fully staff the 999 unit with Special Reserve Police (SRPs) officers to ensure every caller gets help.
Griffith said 800-SAVE is not part of the Police Service and he has no authority over this entity. He said the 999 service is also not under the purview of the Police Service. It falls under the National Security Ministry and its vacancies will be addressed, he added.
“I am going to fill that with SRPs who will be trained to ensure when people call 999, you are going to get a response in seconds. When you call 999 with a domestic issue, saying you need urgent response from that 999, we will help you and send a response to the scene where the abuse is taking place,” said Griffith.
“If it is I need to be made accountable, it must be done under things I have a degree of authority over; I do not have any involvement or authority under 800-SAVE, so I repeat, if somebody wants an immediate response, you might not get it from these other numbers so call the 999,” he added.
Griffith said there are 85 emergency response vehicles across the country, so when a call is made, one will be dispatched to lend assistance within minutes.
On Tuesday, Griffith launched the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Gender-Based Violence Unit (GBVU) which will begin by comprising three to four individuals per policing division, which could change depending on the district and the needs that particular area would have.
The unit will be working in tandem with the other units in their respective districts, with special assistance from the Emergency Response Patrol (ERP) units.
The ERP units would be the first responders taking details of the case, and once it is identified as one involving domestic violence, it would be forwarded to the GBVU team.
From there, the unit, which would be trained by a specialist from the New York City Police Department on best practice procedures, would take over enquiries.
The Express tried to contact Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs), for comment yesterday but calls to her phone went answered.
The Express also called 800-SAVE and was told the co-ordinator was not present and we should call back today.