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Sea Lots rage shows major problems with TTPS
The rage that spilled out of Sea Lots over the past two days exposed two major problems with the T&T Police Service—the public doesn’t trust them and they are unable to respond effectively to situations, even with advance warning.
The angry demonstrations, including blocking of the Beetham Highway with debris after the tragic deaths of Haydee Paul, 28, and her daughters Shakira, seven, and Ruthie, eight, in a traffic accident near the Central Market early Sunday morning, were violent manifestations of widespread public mistrust in law-enforcement bodies.
Residents responded to the fatal accident with spontaneous protests that were not completely quelled on Sunday. They regrouped yesterday morning for an even larger protest that caused several miles of traffic to back up on roads leading into the city, stranding thousands of commuters for up to five hours.
Clearly, the protesters are suspicious that the police are more interested in taking care of their own than in ensuring that Sunday’s fatality is properly investigated and the perpetrators of any infringement of the law brought to justice.
Not for the first time, mistrust of police motives and action has sparked community rage and the police have done nothing to improve its relations with the public. If anything, their response to this latest incident—using rubber bullets and tear gas on the protesters—added more fuel to the fiery protests.
The already tainted image of the police was even more severely battered when they were taken by surprise yesterday by the escalation of the protests. Even their senior public affairs spokesman, ASP Joanne Archie, had to admit in a radio interview that while there had been regular patrols thoughout the area, police were “overwhelmed” when residents made good on their threats to increase their protest action yesterday morning.
It defies basic common sense that the police failed to staff the Beetham Highway properly, although it could have easily been predicted that residents would resume their protests yesterday.
By the time the police managed to scramble together special units and enlist the help of soldiers to clear debris from the highway, the situation—which was a relatively small-scale event that should not have had such widespread consequences—was completely out of control. Restoring normality took several hours, resulting in high levels of involuntary absence and lateness in workplaces along affected routes. The losses in working hours alone were huge, not to mention the stress suffered by thousands of commuters.
Even hours into the turmoil, there was inadequate deployment of law-and-order resources. Traffic police and wardens were nowhere in sight to deal with the massive congestion in Port-of-Spain as long-delayed commuters finally converged on the city. This latest epic failure by the TTPS raises even greater concerns. If they were so unprepared for an expected problem, chaos and mayhem might well be the result of an unexpected and much bigger event such as a natural disaster.
This situation requires urgent attention and action from the Police Service Commission and the Police Complaints Authority, and central and local government bodies must use their influence to ensure the city and the country are better prepared for such eventualities.
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