The Agricultural Ranger Squad (ARS) will be re-launched on September 10 with a team of 12 officers who have been described as the “dirty dozen.” The first squad, which comprised 19 officers, was a pilot project initiated under former minister of agriculture Arnold Piggott. Those officers were trained by members of the T&T Police Service (TRIPS), the T&T Defence Force and SAUTT and worked for one year on contracts which expired on August 3, 2010. Then food production minister Vasant Bharath did not renew the contracts of the officers because he said they were ineffective, did not have powers of arrest and were not precepted. Bharath also said the police was not helpful in backup and response. However, current Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj is vowing to get the new squad up and running. He said in the coming months he will increase the size of the unit to 200 officers and they will be deployed to safeguard farming communities frequented by thieves.
Maharaj said, the squad was discussed during a meeting last Monday of the ministry’s divisional heads. “We will call them the dirty dozens,” Maharaj said. The officers are already equipped with four-wheel-drive vans, arms, ammunition, uniforms, bulletproof vests, torchlights, weight scales, radios, handcuffs and expandable batons. They will operate from facilities at Brechin Castle, Couva, which they will share with the agricultural URP unit. Maharaj said there is an outpost at Carlsen Field which needs minor renovations that the squad can also use. “So the squad can be based there when it begins,” he said. The minister could not say how much funding would be required to get the squad operational. Maharaj said for far too long criminals have been plundering farms: “These thieves feel they have a divine right to reap what others have planted. This has got to stop.” Between September to February, Maharaj said, there was a spike in cases of praedial larceny. He said the first area the squad will target is Carlsen Field which has a high rate of thefts.
“I have already asked Minister of National Security Jack Warner for personnel because under the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act of 2000 the Commissioner of Police can appoint precepted officers as part of a praedial larceny unit.” Maharaj said the biggest problem farmers face is that senior police officers do not see reports of praedial larceny as important or significant and criminals are seldom caught and brought to justice. He said there must be a change in mindset to zero tolerance for all crimes. “Mr Warner was very receptive to the unit since he shared the point of view that if we had security presence in the rural areas, by virtue of their training and dedication they will not turn a blind eye if they see a crime being committed.” Asked how he will ensure that matters are brought before the courts swiftly, Maharaj said the officers first need to make arrests. “Once this is established I will talk to the chief magistrate to ensure that matters are swiftly dealt with in the courts.”