The Law Association of T&T (LATT) has urged caution over Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s “one shot, one kill” policy.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, LATT’s executive council commended Griffith and sought to give him legal advice on his previous handling of the controversial issue.
While the LATT stated that Griffith was correct to assert that police officers can use deadly force in self-defence situations, it said that should not be misconstrued into blanket authorisation for a shoot to kill policy.
It stated that force used by police officers must be proportional to the threat they are facing at the time.
“Shooting to death someone who points a gun at a police officer is easily defensible; shooting to kill in response to an attack with fists is more likely to be held to be excessive and not sanctioned by law,” LATT’s secretary Elena Araujo said.
Araujo suggested that Griffith’s policy must protect his officers as well as citizens from “trigger-happy” officers.
“The decision whether deadly force is justifiable in any given circumstance is likely to be made with little time to weigh the options and consequences of error, either way, being tragic,” she said.
Araujo made special note of Griffith’s “overly strident” attacks of critics of his policy. Although Griffith has intense debates on the issue with Fixin T&T’s Kirk Waithe and criminal defence attorney Wayne Sturge through traditional and social media, neither was directly identified by name.
Referring to a case where a man was killed by police after the officers were attacked by a group of men throwing bottles, Araujo criticised Griffith’s response to concerns raised by a defence attorney.
“Yet still, in response to a criminal law attorney who is entitled to question the application of the “one shot, one kill” policy in the circumstances as reported, the Commissioner responded rather disparagingly accusing the attorney of having an agenda and looking “after the well-being of those who pay him,” she said.
Araujo suggested that Griffith should be sensitive in framing his public responses.
“There is the additional danger that the Commissioner may be setting himself up as being unaccountable to the public who must not deign to criticise his stewardship,” she said.
Responding to the association shortly after it issued its release, a defiant Griffith issued a four-page statement in which he stood his ground on the issue.
“As the Commissioner of Police, I am not going to concentrate my efforts in any continuous debate with others who seem concerned that if someone fires a shot at my officers, they should not use deadly force.
“As I have stated previously, the members of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) are well trained and equipped to undertake their role and function, and if they were to step out of the law to do such, they are also aware of the consequences,” he said.
Griffith also suggested that public criticism of the policy may affect his officers’ ability to adequately respond to threats.
“The continuous statements by those with little law enforcement training, little to no interaction with the use of a firearm, may very well cause one of my officers to have that one second hesitation when confronted with hostile fire, hence I would continue to advise my officers to ignore these individuals and bodies and do what you are trained to do,” he said.
Like with other critics, Griffith then sought to knock the association’s decision to criticise him for seemingly giving officers a blanket shoot to kill policy. He denied that his policy mimicked the one suggested by the association.
“Whomsoever that may have prepared the release for the Law Association appears eager to want to advance scenarios, rather than comprehend the concept of the minimum use of force policy and the right for an officer to use deadly force, as every police officer is aware of this policy,” he said. He questioned whether the release was published with the approval of its membership and why the association did not have stakeholder consultation before publication.
“Why therefore was there no request instead to meet with the Police Commissioner to express their views and concerns? How can a release such as this, rectify such issues except to undermine the policies of the Commissioner of Police and the TTPS? How can this action resolve their concerns?” Griffith asked.