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Cops want talks with Griffith on soldiers’ patrols
The Police Social and Welfare Association is calling for an urgent meeting with the National Security Minister Gary Griffith and the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams to discuss the patrols of soldiers in Laventille. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday secretary of the association Insp Michael Seales said the association was not against the use of soldiers patrolling Laventille but were against them doing so on their own. He said the issue with soldiers patrolling alone was that they were unable to arrest anyone based on suspicions. He added that the soldiers would either have to arrest someone while committing or who had just committed a crime. He hoped Williams would have the regiment officers withdrawn by next March when the Police Service was expected to be up to full capacity.
Speaking to the T&T Guardian on Sunday Griffith said Defence Force patrols in communities in east Port-of-Spain would continue despite opposition from residents, who have made claims of assaults and other human rights infringements by soldiers. Comparing the patrols to those done by private security firms and neighbourhood watch groups, however, Griffith added: “There is nothing illegal in a patrol independent of police officers.” He said from his personal experience, a strong response from the military in instances of attacks on its members was an international norm. “It’s a natural reaction. If you touch one soldier, you touch all,” Griffith said.
But while he defended the Defence Force’s response to Thomas’ killing, he acknowledged the concerns raised about the need for a police presence in cases where arrests and searches of homes and vehicles were required. As such, he said, there would be involvement from the police in all future patrols but he warned that involvement did not mean that soldiers would be standing “shoulder-to-shoulder” with police during patrols.
Residents in east Port-of-Spain have been critical of the regiment’s patrol on the area, saying that the men were abusing their powers. The regiment began patrolling the area following the murder of their colleague Lance Corporal Kayode Thomas who was gunned down on June 29 on his way to his mother’s Beverly Hills home. Thomas was buried yesterday. Yesterday Seales questioned if the actions of the soldiers were just retaliation. Addressing concerns by residents who said the soldiers were operating with masks, he said nowhere in the world law enforcement officers used masks, adding that some cases, like Mexico, were extreme.