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Warner: 5 army camps coming for hot spots
National Security Minister Jack Warner last evening called out all the armed forces to help in the fight against crime, following a four and a half-hour meeting with the top brass of the protective services at his office in Port-of-Spain.
The move will see soldiers setting up five more camps in crime hot spots across the country to work alongside the police, the Coast Guard and Air Guard, keeping a close watch over the coasts and air space.
The meeting, held with acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, Deputy Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, Chief of Defence Staff Kenrick Maharaj and the heads of the Coast Guard and Air Guard, came after a weekend in which nine persons were murdered, taking the toll for the year to 16 in the first two weeks.
Speaking afterwards, Warner said with the Carnival season approaching, he was forced to take the drastic measure to ensure citizens’ safety.
Speaking to the T&T Guardian about the spate of killings within the last two weeks, Warner said: “In the last four days there have been 12 to 14 murders, so by no stretch of the imagination that can make sense.
There were 26 murders for the month of January last year and I have no intention of coming close to that figure. It is senseless and it is foolish.”
The Defence Force has bases at Teteron, Chaguaramas and Cumuto and La Romain and Carapo will be among the new locations where they will set up, Warner said. The other areas where the bases are expected to be set up are Toco, Guayaguayare and Moruga.
“We shall move from three to five bases or camps, especially in those hot spot areas,” he said.
Asked whether a base would be set up in Laventille, Warner said he was debating whether to do so or put police post there. He assured, however, that there would be heightened police and army presence in the area.
He added: “Besides helping the police with recovering guns we must also prevent the guns from coming into the country and therefore some of these camps must be coastal. If you prevent the guns from coming into the country it would be first line of attack in the fight against crime.”
The Air Guard would be working in tandem with the police and soldiers to provide 18 hours of surveillance a day until the end of the month. At the beginning of February, however, surveillance would be increased to 24 hours, Warner said.
He said the Coast Guard also would have a greater presence, via the establishment of “coastal stations” throughout the country.
“These stations will be manned by both police and the Defence Force. We have also heightened the visibility of the joint army-police patrols, especially in crime ‘hot spot’ areas,” he added.
Asked if he was pleased with the performance of the police, Warner said there was much room for improvement, especially in terms of the detection rate, but said he understood the challenges facing them.
“When I listen to the police I must say I am not happy with the performance but I understand their shortcomings and we shall overcome them, one of which is lack of vehicles. There are over 100 vehicles down for repair,” Warner said.
He proposed to open “divisional garages” in each policing division to ensure the maintenance of police vehicles was done in a timely manner.
“When a vehicle is down you would not have to send it to Vemcott and wait weeks and months for it to be fixed. We cannot have the police immobile,” he added.
Precepted soldiers get green light
Despite mounting criticism that soldiers should not be given the same powers as police officers, Warner said he was moving full speed ahead to get the legislation passed so the measure could be implemented. He said he had written to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to get the legislation “speeded up as soon as possible.”
“I am surprised at the level of ignorance that exists in the country in terms of the new trend of the Defence Force,” Warner said. He said countries like India, New Zealand and Australia have changed their legislation to provide soldiers with more powers.
“The whole system of policing and the use of Defence Force has changed. Tell me what is the alternative? We are locked in a time warp and we refuse to come out the box. We have become so colonised that we don’t see the alternatives.” he added.
Among those who have strongly criticised the move was the Police Service Social and Welfare Association, who warned soldiers must know their bounds. Yesterday, however, Warner said: “When the Government passes legislation which would take care of all such concerns that will become the law of the land.
“I have nothing to say to the police who believe they have to protect their turf. I don’t want the police to protect their turf. I want them to protect lives and I have a country to protect.”
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