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Police under fire
Three bystanders were injured on Saturday when brazen gunmen opened fire on a police patrol in East Port-of-Spain. This was the second confrontation police had with gunmen over three days, in the known crime hotspot. Police said on Saturday, three officers attached to the Inter-Agency Task Force, were on mobile patrol, at Block Eight, John John, when they parked at the side of the road. Investigators said, without warning the officers were fired upon from gunmen standing on a hill above.
Three people, including an eight-year-old boy, who were standing nearby received gunshot injuries and were taken to hospital. Police said they returned fire but the gunmen eluded capture. Crime Scene Unit officers recovered close to 80 spent shells at the scene. And on Friday, police officers on foot patrol at Beverly Hills, Laventille were fired upon and luckily were not injured.
Responding to the latest attack, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, in a telephone interview yesterday reminded his charges that they performed a “high risk” job and vowed to provide them with all the support to ensure their safety.
“We have experienced phases of confrontation and the job is a high risk one and it is critical for the Police Service to continue to train and prepare them to face all the challenges that may confront them on a daily basis. The law abiding citizens do co-operate but we are dealing with a small percentage involved in violent crime. And with that small population the police officers face challenges in those confrontation.”
“Officers will receive all the support that we can provide them to ensure their protection and their safety. “A lot of time the society generally may not necessarily appreciate the extent of risks that police expose themselves to on a daily basis towards the protection of the general citizenry,” he said.
“When a police officer goes out, he goes to ensure the citizens are safe and it is in that context the employer needs to readily recognise that policing is not just another profession. It is an exceptional profession which requires the type of renumeration that is necessary to effectively reward people for putting their lives on the line on a daily basis,” he said. Williams said he will continue to encourage his officers to be professional “and hold firm to their oath of an officer. They have total support from the leadership of the organisation.”
Also responding to the incident was, Police Second Division Association general secretary Insp Michael Seales who urged members of the service to be diligent while on patrol. “The association shares the concern of the commissioner there is a growing concern that the police officers are faced with life threatening risks,” he said. Seales said the association feels that training is the cornerstone of professionalism.
“The association has always looked at the trends occurring not in the past few weeks but past two to three years and would have realised that it would not have been far in the distant future where police officers were faced with imminent threats which occurred this past weekend,” he said. The officers must be commended for carrying out their duties in the most professional manner, Seales said.
“And the public must stand by the side of the policeman and the Police Service. As the policeman now is active in the defence of himself and the public at large,” he said.
“There is no time that police officers embark on enterprises that will result on unlawful extra judicial killings. But at this point in time of our history of law enforcement, we will see incidents such as what transpired and many more in the future. So the association asks that every member exercise caution, diligence and the public partner with us to eradicate the scourge we are now facing,” he said.
The shootings at the police vehicles have occurred in the face of an aggressive anti-crime thrust by law enforcement agencies and government in known crime hotspots. Contacted on what the shooting situation augered for the national crime fight, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said he didn’t comment on day-to-day policing incidents until he discussed it with the Police Commissioner.
He said the same sort of thing had been happening for years: “It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last,” he added, in a brief telephone interview yesterday.
Additional reporting—Gail Alexander