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Cops say No to Bill
President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Sgt Anand Ramesar asked for an urgent meeting with National Security Minister Jack Warner yesterday, after police began circulating a petition saying the plan to precept soldiers was a “serious, catastrophic decision.” In an unusual move, aimed at forcing the association to take action, police officers circulated the petition throughout all policing divisions, reflecting what they say are their urgent concerns.
The association represents more than 5,000 police officers from the First and Second Divisions. Ramesar explained that the document did not originate from the association, but represented its members’ views. He said although he sent the letter to Warner yesterday afternoon, he had not suggested a date for the meeting, as he was hopeful the minister would understand the urgency of the situation and respond accordingly.
Ramesar said the association was ready to meet with Warner as soon as possible, as it had not been consulted as yet over the move to give soldiers the power of arrest. He is hoping Warner responds to the request, as he believes, “It would be a loss of an opportunity to engage the association on this very important matter. “Notwithstanding, the minister had previously indicated he would consult with the association and we are hoping there will be follow-through,” he added.
The situation was causing “a disturbing stir” among the police, he said. The Defence (Amendment) Bill, which was presented in the Lower House yesterday by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, seeks to give soldiers the power of arrest, parallel to that of the police. Additionally, Ramesar has also trained the association’s guns on acting Police Commissioner (CoP) Stephen Williams, challenging Williams to say what he thinks of the plan.
“We want the acting Commissioner of Police to clear the air in terms of his position on the matter,” Ramesar said. “We expect a CoP to align himself with the views of the association, who will align itself with the views expressed by the membership.” A special membership meeting has been scheduled for March 13 at 1.30 pm at the Guard and Emergency Branch head office in Aranguez, San Juan.
Williams has been invited, and Ramesar said it would be a disappointment if he did not attend. Ramesar said all police officers are invited to debate the matter, after which the association will put forward a clear position on behalf of the members.
Ramesar quoted from a copy of the petition in his possession that read: “The members view the decision to precept soldiers as a serious, catastrophic decision that has the potential to initiate an irreversible trend of interference on the independence of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) and its operations.” While he was unable to say how many officers had signed the petition yesterday, Ramesar said his copy contained signatures from both First and Second Division officers.
On the basis of information coming “from the ground,” Ramesar said: “We are convinced the document and signatures are representative of the sentiments of the general membership.” He said while the petition was evidence of the views of members, the association would send it to any official and it would remain private and confidential.
Asked about the issues that could arise from soldiers being precepted, Ramesar explained: “The association believes anyone who is to be precepted must come under the authority of the CoP and must fall in line with the regulations that govern the TTPS. “The association does not want a parallel authority exercising similar powers as that of the TTPS, as it is tantamount to serving a different master,” he said.
“The members are suggesting that if you want, then let soldiers resign and apply to become full-fledged police officers and work as police officers and not as soldiers seeking police powers.” Contacted yesterday, Williams declined to respond to the association’s comments.
When told of the invitation to Wednesday’s meeting, which was issued at an impromptu press conference yesterday, he said: “I don’t know anything about the press conference, and until such time that I would have viewed the utterances of the association’s president, I won’t be able to comment.”
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