Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

POLICE Commissioner Gary Griffith and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi have apologised to the residents of Gulf View, in La Romaine, whose homes were raided in May as police searched for a kidnap victim.

So began the story in the Express on November 22. The event occurred in May, and up until the time of the reporting two weeks ago, the country remained in the dark as to the reason behind it. It may be stretching natural expectations to assume that the residents whose homes were so purposefully invaded, whose lives were so embarrassingly put on display, would have been told the reasons why. The rest of the country was left to hold on to an assurance from the Minister of National Security that there was “good reason” for the police action. Six months later we get to find out it was in an attempt to find a kidnap victim.

“One resident has since threatened legal action,” the report on November 22 said, his wife and family having been left traumatised by this action, which involved “heavily armed, masked police” officers. They found nothing.

At a town meeting in the community on November 20, the commissioner said he was apologising “for the incident that took place when the police were forced to enter the houses” that day. He said they were “forced to enter,” based on what the Attorney General, sitting by his side at the meeting, described as “acting on the collection of data”, and being “in hot pursuit of a certain crime”.

But this affair is now open for questioning, on the basis of the fact that nothing and no one was found in or on any of the seven premises which were raided, causing trauma and wild speculation about the lives of the families involved. The information was flawed, and the commissioner in his act of contrition, says his officers “were human and made mistakes.” The decision to undertake the raid in the first place was somebody’s call to make, and the commissioner revealingly removes himself from that equation, assigning the making of the “mistakes” to others. He said the officers were “looking to save a life that day,” a life that was to all intents and purposes “at risk.” Except, however, there was no such “at risk” life in any of the homes which were put in the spotlight.

The commissioner’s clever use of the term “forced to enter” is transparent for its attempt to justify action which fell flat, a play for minimising the impact of a decision taken on the basis of embarrassingly faulty intelligence.

But complicating the issue even further, the Attorney General tells us that the police investigators were dealing with “the triangulation of cell phone data to assist us in recovering a kidnap victim”. How much good was that supposed “triangulation of data,” if it led to this terrorising, “paranging’’, of a set of wrong houses. What it leaves open to question is that someone or some persons in any or all of the seven unfortunate homes must have been involved in what we know now, six months later, was a plot to hold and end the life of someone. Was the victim male or female, Trinidadian or non-national, where exactly was he or she found, in what relation to the homes in Gulf View, and if no one in any of those homes had connection to the affair, what exactly led to those searches, the country deserves to be told. More explanation rather than less, is a critical imperative which the authorities remain responsible for delivering.

What assurances are there that screw-ups such as this aren’t likely to be more the norm in this period of hyper-aggressive, personality-driven crime-fighting?

We as yet have no idea as to where and when, subsequent to the high profile searches, this person was “successfully located and saved,” as reported by the Attorney General. This confirmation was just by the way, as an adjunct to this apology which may well not have the impact it was intended to carry with those most personally affected.

“What happened in that matter was a part of a police exercise which is permitted in law,” the Attorney General went on to preach at the town meeting. “That would work itself out in due course by way of our amendment to the Interception of Communications Act which will allow for a little bit more clarity to come into the situation,” he said.

Is there anyone out there who thinks he could have been any more obtuse? This wasn’t a speech in parliament or at a roundtable stake-holder discussion on anti-kidnapping or gang-legislation reform. It was a town meeting ostensibly called to appease the residents in a high-end quadrant of his own constituency, who were waiting for answers on a mission that went clear off the rails, as far as they are concerned.

The commissioner’s characteristic cheekiness in volunteering that he would tender the same apology in Morvant, Beetham or Laventille only serves to engender the following as an appropriate rejoinder. “Yeah, right!’’

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