Admitting that racial tensions exist within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, Assistant Commissioner of Police Fitzroy Fredericks said the statements made by Police Service Commission (PSC) chairman, Nizam Mohammed, were only "fueling fire." He said Mohammed words can only "create divisions in the Police Service" and were "dangerous." Fredericks, in a press conference held at the Police Administration Building yesterday, said it was Attorney General Anand Ramlogan who first raised the issue of ethnic imbalance at a meeting with the Police Service, which included Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in January.
"He called us to a meeting and we were really bludgeoned with such a statement that the Police Service does not reflect the ethnic composition of the country....We don't know where these things are coming from," he said. "Within the Police Service and by extension the national community, after almost 50 years of independence, I am saying it's a very retrograde statement for somebody at his level such a high profile office." "We didn't feel too happy about it then, as we feel now," he said. Last Friday, Mohammed told the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament examining the operations of the PSC that while 50 per cent of T&T's population was of East Indian descent, the Police Service executive did not reflect this composition.
There have been calls for Mohammed and the head of the T&T Police Service Association, Sergeant Anand Ramesar to resign. Ramesar had written a letter to Commission of Police (CoP) Dwayne Gibbs, with a copy to Mohammed, expressing concern with the ethnic composition of the Promotional and Advisory Board. Responding to the recent developments, Fredericks said: "We feel that people, in such level in the society, to seek to put forward those views knowing fully well there is a historical perspective for where we are...I am certain these people know their history but I believe it is a deliberate attempt to frustrate our efforts and create some divisions.
"At the end of the day, we all have to live in T&T and the police has to continue to protect the democracy," he added. Referring to the country's history, Fredericks said that it was difficult for the police to attract recruits. He said local police officers came from Barbados, Grenada and Antigua before Independence.
At that time, he noted, it was difficult to attract East Indians to the profession as they opted to get into commerce and agriculture. While he couldn't give an ethnic breakdown of the 7,000-plus Police Service, Fredericks said recruitment and promotions were transparent processes. Fredericks dismissed questions based on concerns by officers of possible vicitimisation as they sit promotional exams today.
He pointed out that for the third year, the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute would be overseeing the exams. Promotions were done solely on merit, he stressed. Attempts to contact Mohammed, Ramesar and AG Ramlogan yesterday were futile. The Guardian was told that Mohammed was not at home.
Meanwhile, retired acting CoP, James Philbert, said yesterday that Mohammed's statements were "ludicrous." "It is wrong," he told the Guardian. "The statement did not say that there were incompetent or dishonest Africans...It just said there were too many Africans. There is no real basis for such a statement. How could sensible people make such a statement?"
He said as an "African" and as a former head of the police, he felt a serious burden to comment on this issue. He described it "as the most absurd statement in the understanding of the Police Service."
Philbert explained that he joined the Police Service in 1967 when his salary was a meagre $205 a month. He observed that those salaries were not attractive then for people to pursue the profession.
And while he's seen the Police Service grow into a dynamic, multi-cultural force, he said race should not be an issue. "People must be plural...We must be careful on aspects of diversity," he said. "I only hope the decision that was made for me was not because of race because that would be hurtful." (AJ)