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Traffic Branch feeling strain
With Christmas in full swing and Carnival right around the corner, the T&T Police Service Traffic Branch is facing a serious shortage of resources, including manpower. Already stretched to provide escort services to a host of dignitaries, the strength of the Traffic Branch is severely depleted, according to ASP Dianand Naipaul. Naipaul, who has worked in various departments of the unit, said the branch was operating with resources which were allocated some four years ago. “Our fleet was increased by about 12 cars this year and we got those vehicles out of the excess from the Summit. We had to fight and bawl and scream to get those vehicles,” Naipaul said. He said the Highway Patrol was working with 22 vehicles, apart from which 28 are under repair. “There are also four vehicles dedicated to the executive. Traffic Branch is not only for the roadway. We do executive patrols, we do duties for foreign dignitaries. “Wherever the President, Prime Minister and Attorney General go, we have to go,” Naipaul said. He said a day in the life of a Traffic Branch officer usually begins at 6 am and does not finish until 3 am the next morning.
Nitro added to fuel
Already grappling to minimise the carnage on the nation’s roads, police said they were faced with a new and difficult task. Bent on experiencing “super speed,” drivers have created their own concoction by mixing nitro with fuel. The combination, Naipaul explained, resulted in a faster “burn out”. He said; “When you mix nitro with ordinary fuel that creates a faster burn off. “But it also means cars would explode easily because they are not according to the manufacturers’ specifications.” Additionally, said the senior cop, specifications of the cars were being altered to create a more aerodynamic effect. He said: “People are installing something in the cars that resemble fins, thus changing the aerodynamics. These additional features also help to make the cars go faster and develop speed close to flying. “Drivers also construct a ‘drop low’ in the cars by cutting the spring to the back but by doing so there is no proper control, easily resulting in accidents.” The majority of road accident victims, he said, are young people in the middle-class bracket. According to Naipaul, the accidents usually occur between 1 am and 4 am when the roads are fairly clear.
Urging corporate citizens to play their part in reducing road carnage, Naipaul said they must desist from selling modification apparatus. “Suppliers of the aerodynamics apparatus must realise they are contributing to road deaths and collisions,” he said. According to Naipaul, the police are virtually powerless to deal with the problem and the issue is one for the Licensing Department to tackle. “If the car is impounded you would see that certain factors would be contrary to registration, like horsepower, and that does not reside with the police but rather the Licensing Department,” Naipaul explained. He said it was often difficult to identify a car using nitro until after the act is committed. “When we go to Valsayn in the night we hear a blast off and by that time the person already has used a can of nitro. The police don’t have the mobility to chase these guys,” Naipaul said. He said it was also “illegal” to set traps to chase perpetrators because entrapment is against the law. “If we set traps it would mean the police are just as guilty as the perpetrator,” Naipaul said. Public education, he said, is critical and a greater control of goods coming into the country must be exercised.
Flashback: Police and fire officers examine the scene of a fatal accident on the Uriah Butler Highway in Chaguanas on Father’s Day in June. PHOTO: MARCUS GONZALES
Pressure for Christmas
So overworked and overburdened is the Traffic Branch that officers seldom have the opportunity to enjoy Christmas with their loved ones. “Traffic Branch has no Christmas because you work round-the-clock to provide service to the public,” Naipaul said. He said apart from normal duties, officers were called out when work was being conducted at various points on the roadway. “Sometimes there are minor changes being done to the roadway and that would bring about major congestion. “The timing of these activities are most times wrong because they should be done at nights to create minimum congestion and sometimes construction goes on without the police being informed,” Naipaul said. Other major causes of congestion identified by Cpl Andy Morris include off-loading of containers and indiscriminate parking throughout Port-of-Spain. He said: “When a container is being off-loaded on Henry Street at midday the traffic that is caused is unbelievable. “Parking still posed a serious problem because long ago there was unilateral parking, now vehicles are allowed to park on both sides of the roads so people parking anywhere and clogging the roads.” Morris noted that in major towns there has been no major increase in roadways.
The sanctioned or suggested strength of the Traffic Branch is 401 officers. The actual strength, however, is 299. “And in between we have lost about 20 people, some of who are working elsewhere,” Naipaul said. “We need a minimum of 50 working vehicles and we made this request in August last year. The strength we have has put us under pressure because that is stretching our resources. “If we get the vehicles and the increased strength then we could be more effective because as it is now we have stretched the manpower for visibility because we have to concentrate much more on visibility as a deterrent factor,” Naipaul said.
Shuttle plan ineffective
The proposed park-and-ride shuttle plan for Port-of-Spain has been described as ineffective by Naipaul. Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner, who made the proposition in October, said motorists would park at approved parking lots and be shuttled by bus into the cities of Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. The service will also be extended to Arima and Princes Town. The plan, Warner said, was aimed at reducing congestion in the inner cities. The proposal, however, was met with much scepticism by officers of the Traffic Branch. “There are no areas where people can properly park their vehicles, leave them behind and really feel that sense of security. “Apart from this, people have a mentality where they want to park right in front of the store and come back and meet their vehicle right there,” Naipaul said.
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