Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams yesterday urged the public to keep the faith in the T&T Police Service as he promised to root out all rogue officers.He made the call even as an officer appeared in court charged with the robbery of two Chinese businessmen last week.
Speaking at the weekly police press briefing at the Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, Williams admitted that the T&T Police Service's (TTPS) reputation had been tarnished by recent incidents in which police officers have been accused of committing crimes.
"Today I want to give the public the assurance that the TTPS is staffed with a majority of officers who are honest, law abiding and committed to fulfilling their obligations and oath in the noble profession of policing.
"Instances like these will be the exception and we will be doing everything possible to minimise the recurrence of events like the one," Williams said.He sought to assure the public that all allegations made against police officers were treated seriously and that those accused were not given favourable treatment.
"The TTPS will take a tough approach to any criminal conduct which is alleged against any police officer. The public is vesting trust in the TTPS and we must do nothing to undermine this. Clear decisive and timely action will be taken in every case to remove what we can describe as the rogue element from the Police Service," Williams said.
In a press release issued later in the day, he noted that since 2012, 150 officers, varying in rank from constable to Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), had been suspended by the TTPS after being charged with criminal offences, including murder, misbehaviour in public office, perverting the course of public justice, sedition, assault and driving under the influence.
During the earlier press conference, while he refused to comment extensively on the investigation into last week's robbery, which is still ongoing, Williams said preliminary investigations showed that the group of men responsible for the crime were not all police officers.
"I don't want us to go away with the assumption that all that you have seen in that video are police officers," he said, as he referred to a short video of CCTV footage of the incident which has been broadcast on social media websites.
The video clip clearly shows a group of men, dressed in what appear to be police uniforms, arriving at the businessman's Claxton Bay home in a police vehicle.
Asked about the impact of social media in assisting the police in solving crimes, Williams encouraged citizens to post videos of suspicious activity and crimes.
"We have no objection to the citizens putting videos they have recorded on social media but we would want them to provide the TTPS with as much assistance as possible," he said.
However, he said as a result of the incident, the TTPS had amended the protocols for police officers conducting raids and executing search warrants.
"We will enure that police raids and searches are not conducted by police officers without visible police uniform. That will assist us in ensuring that the citizens out there do not facilitate anyone just saying police.
"Whoever comes must be in police uniform and must provide some feedback in terms of ID. Police officers are supposed to carry ID cards and that can be demanded by a citizen," Williams said.
As he renewed calls to citizens to partner with the police in the future, Williams said citizens would be protected through the witness protection programme if they provided tips and information to police
"There is no perfect solution. We have to build back the confidence and trust and the only way we can do that is by showing that we eliminate incidents with police officers and be tough and timely with it. But if we eliminate these incidents, it will get us closer to the point of the citizens recognising that anyone coming to their home dressed in police uniform can be trusted," he said.
Contacted yesterday, director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) David West agreed that the police's reputation was diminished with each incident of officers committing a crime.
"Public trust in the TTPS has been eroded by the numerous counts of alleged criminal behaviour of its members. Whilst most citizens are aware that these represent a minority in TTPS, the recent frequency of these incidents has been a cause of concern to citizens of T&T," he said.
West provided PCA statistics which showed that between 2014 and 2015, there were 362 complaints made against police officers and 367 between 2015 and this year, a marginal increase.He suggested that for confidence to improve, the public must be shown that officers were prosecuted and convicted for their alleged crimes.
"For public confidence to be restored, it's for the public to see the alleged offenders, if when tried and if found guilty, they are swiftly removed from the service," he said, as he also called for stronger criteria for recruiting officers and psychometric testing for new recruits.