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Griffith: Laventille now safest in years

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj, left, defends his soldiers' occupation of Laventille during a press conference hosted by the Ministry of National Security at Temple Court, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. Looking on is National Security Minister, Gary Griffith. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE

National Security Minister Gary Griffith says Laventille has become the “safest ever in years,” adding that soldiers will not be moved from the area. He also called for a “middle-ground” to be established as soldiers daily were putting their lives on the line and were impotent to make arrests. He made it clear he was not demanding that soldiers be given powers of arrest.



Griffith said so at a press conference at the National Security Ministry, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Also in attendance were acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and Chief of Defence Staff Major Gen Kenrick Maharaj. Within recent weeks there has been criticism from members of the public, the Law Association, and from some Laventille residents, and Williams about soldiers patrolling on their own and wearing masks.


On the directive given for soldiers to be called out, Williams said that was raised at a National Security Council meeting earlier this year when 19 murders were recorded in January. He explained: “We had a national security meeting. The clear mandate given was to ensure T&T was returned to a level of peace and safety. Coming out of that we launched a 2014 operation heavily built around the areas where we were facing our greatest challenge. Laventille has been the dominant area for many years. 


“That operation has been running from January and it has been heightened within recent times. The Chief of Defence Staff and I would have joined and we shaped an operation to drive violent crimes down. “The mandate came from the National Security Council. The head, the Prime Minister, went public and shared with you the mandate given to the security forces.” On statistics on soldier abuse the acting top cop said he had triple-checked, even before the press conference, and there were none.


“In relation to the very said people who have complained in the domain of the media, they have not made a single complaint to any of the police stations. “I have no complaints in Central Division. I have checked with Morvant, Besson Street, Central Police Station and there is no complaint from the individuals,” Williams said. At last week’s press conference Williams said soldiers who went on patrols and on operations on their own were acting illegally and warned that they could be arrested.


On whether Dillon “Bandy”  Skeete, said to be the target of searches by soldiers, was wanted for homicides, Williams said that was not the case.



Operations authorised—Maharaj

Saying there was “great anxiety’ surrounding the authorisation of the operations Maharaj said: “The Chief of Defence Staff with the powers vested in him is the authority for all operations regarding members of the Defence Force. “The operations in Laventille and environs constitute operations that are authorised by the Chief of Defence Staff. All operations in the Laventille areas are considered legitimate operations because they are in support of the police.”


 On the purpose of soldiers in Laventille given the fact they have no powers of arrests Maharaj said over the years in respect to joint operations and given the changes in the national security environment there has been a “significant refinement” in the concept of operations. 



There were three main features of joint operations, he added, which included a well-defined command and control framework, a well-defined area of operations in which common missions and tasks were undertaken and the understanding that primacy resided with law enforcement. Maharaj said the Defence Force was investigating two reports made by two men stemming from the operations and these were ongoing probes.


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