Recurring reports of police officers and soldiers being arrested, charged and convicted in criminal matters involving murder, kidnapping, rape, human trafficking, theft and domestic violence are red flags that should serve as a warning about the state of the protective services.
The rotten apples initially detected in the Police Service back in the 1980s by the Scott Drug Report are threatening to contaminate the entire barrel. The incidence of officers using their uniforms, badges, guns and sirens as weapons against innocent citizens describes a perversion of everything that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service should stand for. By now, it should be evident to TTPS managers and the Police Service Commission that the service has a serious problem that requires urgent intervention and a comprehensive review of the recruitment process, management systems and disciplinary mechanisms.
Sweeping the problem under the rug and denying the facts with stout defences and postures of victimhood only embolden uniformed rogues to believe they are untouchables.
Recent examples involving Assistant Commissioner of Police Irwin Hackshaw and the police raid on the Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) outfit point to the need for strengthening independent mechanisms for investigating police officers. The DSS case also raises questions about the code of conduct guiding the activities of soldiers outside their job. How a soldier could be running something called “Drugs Sou Sou” which is flagrant in its title and co-opts the trusted informal sou-sou savings plan in a so-called investment is mind-boggling. We fully agree that DSS warrants investigation, but question the manner in which the investigation was handled by the police and are aghast at the attempts by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to distract attention from allegations that officers on the raid stole some of the cash that was seized.
Public opinion does not have to choose between a police investigation of DSS and DSS’ allegations of theft against the police. Both should be fully investigated. What we are forced to question, however, is whether the TTPS is capable of investigating its officers, given the Commissioner’s attempt to explain away apparent video evidence of an officer stealing cash. The public would have much greater confidence in the TTPS investigating its own if Commissioner Griffith would allow due process to take its course in matters alleging police wrongdoing instead of offering knee-jerk defences for his troops while shooting the messenger.
Increasingly, members of the public are turning to the Police Complaints Authority for justice and relief against crimes allegedly committed by police officers. However, the PCA was never meant to be a parallel police service but an external check on police abuse of power. Ultimately, the rot in the TTPS cannot be solved by expanding investigative services outside the TTPS, even if this is what will have to be done for now.
The PCA does indeed require additional resources and greater legislative authority to fulfil its mandate, and we urge Parliament to deal with this. However, the solution to the problems within the TTPS can only come from closing loopholes and strengthening systems to make it more efficient and accountable with effective checks and balances.