The cries of pregnant cancer patient Melissa Evans echoed throughout the Port-of-Spain Magistrate’s Court yesterday after she was told she had to spend a night in prison after being denied bail in
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Top Cop condemns soldiers’ actions
Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams is condemning soldiers going out on patrols and carrying out operations on their own. He also made it clear there was a role for the Police Service and another role for the Defence Force, adding that it was illegal for soldiers to wear masks and carry out searches.
Over the last two weeks there have been numerous complaints by members of the public, especially those who live in “hot spot” areas, of soldier abuse. Since the June 29 shooting death of Lance Cpl Kayode Thomas Laventille residents have claimed soldiers were patrolling, searching were “arresting” people without police officers present. At a press briefing held at the Police Administration Building yesterday, Williams said he was aware of these complaints, and also expressed concern.
“What has been happening over the last two weeks, I personally, as the head of the Police Service, I have concerns. I have similar concerns which you share. I have brought those concerns to the attention of the chief of Defence Staff (Major Gen Kenrick Maharaj) and he has given me the assurance that he has not authorised any soldier to carry out any operations,” Williams said. Williams said he had been out of the country for the last nine days and it was unfair for people to complain about his silence on the issue.
He said he also sought clarity from Maharaj whether there has been any change in the instructions given to the soldiers. “He made it clear to me there has been no change by way of his directions, because soldiers generally operate in support of the Police Service. It is a longstanding arrangement that goes way back to time immemorial.”
Williams said the joint army-police patrols came into effect in 2003 and fell under the unit of the Interagency Task Force, with a focus on operating in high-risk communities. This year, he said, additional demands were made for the support of the Defence Force when there were 19 murders within seven days. But he said “under no circumstances” was there a request for soldiers to carry out operations on their own that included searching homes.
“I was given the assurance by the Chief of Defence Staff that he has not authorised any detachment of soldiers to be carrying out operations on their own,” he repeated. “The operation of the Defence Force, in the context of the relationship with the Police Service, is in support of the Police Service. And the Defence Force normally makes reference to it in the form of aid to civil power. “I gave no direction and I have not received any further information from the Chief of Defence Staff of him authorising operations,” Williams said.
He said claims of assault by soldiers must be reported to police to be investigated, and said these reports would be probed with the same thoroughness and swiftness as allegations against the police. “If a citizen is adversely affected, that person must support that allegation. But I am not in charge of the Defence Force. But as the head of the Police Service I am under an obligation to bring to the head of the Defence Force the issues that are out in the public domain, which I am sure he is aware of.
He said the presence of soldiers in a community was not illegal but their actions could be deemed unlawful. On whether he would call on Maharaj to account for the behaviour of the soldiers, Williams said it was not his place to do so. On allegations made in the Senate on Tuesday by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan that the police were protecting drug blocks and brothels, Williams said he was unaware of this.
“People tend to say all kinds of things in Parliament. What I can tell you is I am not protecting any drug block and I am not protecting any brothel.”
No operations without police: Griffith
When contacted, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said he was assured that all operations in Laventille involved the police. Griffith said he was told of this when he personally contacted the police and the Defence Force. “We have seen a group of two soldiers, for instance, patrolling Frederick Street, but there is always the nearby presence of the police. “Nothing is wrong with that. “We have to ensure there are no renegade elements involved,” Griffith added.
He said some of those who claimed soldiers were carrying out operations on their own might be criminal elements who were scared. “I have been bombarded by numerous calls from people in the Laventille district who said they are pleased by the presence of soldiers and they felt safer. “But at the same time, we have to ensure what they are doing, they have the authorisation,” Griffith added.
On the issue of soldiers staking out the T&T Guardian building in Port-of-Spain on Monday, apparently in search of Dillon “Bandy” Skeete on Monday, Williams said this was being investigated. Griffith said he had received an official report and immediately contacted Maharaj. He said he was also making arrangements for the Defence Force hierarchy to meet with the management of Guardian Media Ltd to ensure the matter was quickly dealt with.