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National Security Minister Gary Griffith, denying claims by the Police Social Welfare Association, says the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) is one of the most successful police initiatives seen in the last decade. Dismissing calls by the association to cease the operations of the RRU, he said: “I was never one to throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The association made the call after an RRU officer allegedly shot and killed 21-year old Naim Dean in the back while he was reportedly running away.
The incident happened in the Glencoe area last Friday night when the RRU officers were on routine patrol. Relatives say the officers stopped the vehicle in which Dean was travelling with three other men, searched them and slapped Dean. Dean was shot as he ran off into the bushes after being slapped by the officer. The incident has ignited fury from relatives, the Movement for Social Justice and members of the public.
The police association says it happened because the Special Reserve Police (SRP) who are drafted into the unit are not properly trained for their new responsibilities. The association is charging the RRU is a specialised unit but the officers’ training does not come up to the standard of even a regular police officer. Association president, Inspector Anand Ramesar, said they had warned Police Commissioner Stephen Williams that such incidents would occur.
The SRP officers were called out late last year to form the new unit after the escalation in crime and the personnel were trained for six weeks. Griffith, responding yesterday to questions from the T&T Guardian on the association’s call to shut down the RRU until the retraining of SRPs, said: “One would not want to shut down a whole unit because of one incident.” He said the six-week training period for SRPs was mandatory, adding: “Some of them have been SRPs for a long time.”
Some merit in complaint
The minister said, however, he understood the concerns of the association and noted there was “some merit” in what they said. Griffith said he would provide training for officers on how to minimise the use of excessive force but it would be for “officers across the board.” Listing the merits of the RRU (see box below), he said: “The RRU has proven to be one of the most positive initiatives seen over the last decade.”
Commenting on the shooting of Dean and the association’s call, Griffith observed that they were speaking as though it was proven the officer was guilty. He added: “When an officer shoots someone in the back, he is not automatically guilty. There were situations in which regular officers shoot people in the back. “This happens all over the world. But you don’t shut down the whole Police Service because of that.”
Griffith said it was his job, however, to enhance the standards of the Police Service and he intended to introduce soon proper training for all officers, SRP and regular. Williams, asked for a response yesterday, said, “I have no comment to make on anything the association says.” RRU head, Snr Supt Earl Gonzales, was unavailable.
• Members of the public get immediate response.
• The unit has proven to be very effective in providing an ultimate deterrent to criminal elements.
• Statistics show it has been an effective tool in the reduction of major criminal activities.
• Resulted in preventing an array of misdemeanors from turning into criminal acts.
• Officer visibility has made it one of the most effective methods in dealing with public fear.