Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

The trouble with Gary Griffith is that he insists on wanting to run the country, while people under his direct charge and command keep exposing the shortcomings in his incessant attempts to portray the role of superhero.

One senior officer in the spectacular raid on the so-named Drugs Sou Sou enterprise in La Horquetta is caught on tape stuffing wads of money into his uniform. The two major suspects in the kidnap and murder of Andrea Bharatt end up dead at the hands of their police interrogators. The Commissioner was led to say that one of them died after falling off a chair. He is not known to have sought to correct the record on this matter.

One by one, he has railed against every single one of the country’s independent institutions, on account of their “failure” to make decisions in accordance with his will. It was an extra-ordinary step for his immediate predecessor to have been sufficiently provoked. In the midst of the debate over the Commissioner’s freestyle approach to the granting of firearms licences, Stephen Williams was moved to declare that, for Mr Griffith, “everything is about him, him, him”.

In a recent popularity poll, the Express found an 80-per cent approval rating for the Commissioner. He found it necessary, nevertheless, to seek to go after the probable 20 per cent who would not be so moved. He can’t do the job alone, many a public sentiment holds. This, in reality, runs counter to the image he has been crafting for himself over the three years of occupancy in the job.

One telling piece of footage captures this bravado eloquently. Police officers were amassed at one of the entrances to the Beetham Estate during a planned operation. They appeared to await the arrival of the boss. Hitting the ground, he moved to the middle of the front row, assault weapon in hand, motioning the troops to move forward, step by step. The protesting residents, angry young men in the main, move back, corresponding step by step. Upon assumption of the position, he told an expectant nation if they could not get through otherwise in their need to get attention from the police, to “call Gary”. He made his cellphone available to all and sundry. Not everyone who opted for this personalised approach to crime fighting got the satisfaction ostensibly guaranteed by this bombastic assurance.

“I’ll be back,” he confidently tells his detractors during a news conference as he headed on leave, while the Police Service Commission dithers. This provocative assertion itself is emblematic of the kind of “in your face” mannerism too often exhibited by the now vacationing Police Commissioner. Referring to what it has labelled “a torrent of questionable and disturbing policing actions” over the course of Mr Griffith’s three-year stint as Commissioner, this newspaper called attention to the fact that those actions were undertaken by senior officers “hand-picked” by the Commissioner himself. This constituted the first paragraph in an editorial on September 6. One of those incidents involved the deaths of the two principal suspects in the Andrea Bharatt kidnap and murder. The central figure here is the so-named Special Operations Response Team. Another had to do with the “down the islands” frolic, involving the Commissioner’s specially selected legal adviser.

Down the line, at the same time, it has been emerging that ordinary, Special Reserve Police Officers to boot, felt confident enough to buck the Commissioner’s well-crafted, highly burnished image of no-nonsense. Their actions have been adding up to make a mockery of what he purports to stand for.

In one breath, businessman Peter George saw “efficiency” in how Mr Griffith handled the opening of the floodgates to gun licence applicants. In another, two low-level officers are charged with taking money to expedite related applications. How and why should an SRP and a PC be in any position to help facilitate such a highly sensitive process? Why would they even think it safe to participate in such an effort, risking the reputation of the man at the top? They couldn’t care about his reputation. Their actions, and those of other like-minded officers under his orders, constitute a nasty slap in the face of the image he seeks to construct for himself.

During the five years between 2010 and 2015, Gary Griffith was the national security adviser to the Prime Minister, and then minister of national security. The PNM in opposition kept up a campaign of assaults on the then-government for what it termed its mishandling of the country’s national security apparatus. Such assaults continue to this day. Gary Griffith was voluble then, in his opposition to the PNM.

That he became the country’s Commissioner of Police with the support of a PNM majority in the Parliament is confirmation that he didn’t get to share any of the blame for what was said to have happened with National Security, circa 2010-2015. One ought to be forgiven for considering this the heights of cynicism.

He came into the job declaring he has a country “to defend”. Not one to “protect”. He sees the universe through dangerously narrow, personalised lenses.

—Andy Johnson is a veteran journalist

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