The T&T Police Service (TTPS) has begun work in establishing a sexual offenders' database. Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, in a telephone interview yesterday evening, confirmed plans of the database to the T&T Guardian. However, Richardson was careful to note that once established the database would be for the benefit of law enforcement personnel and would not be accessible to members of the public. "How would you like it if someone could just search your name in such an online database?" DCP Richardson asked. He said if such information was made public it would be an invasion of privacy.
Richardson revealed that the proposed nationwide database would encompass persons who were convicted of offences under the Sexual Offence Act, including rape and indecent and sexual assault.
He said the plans were implemented last year in accordance with legislation surrounding sexual offenders.
Richardson said work already had begun to compile a listing of sexual offenders but could not confirm whether the list would be computerised.
When asked if employers would be able to access the database to investigate prospective employees, DCP Richardson reiterated the information would be strictly for police use. He noted that employers would be able to gain information about an applicant's criminal record through the already established system of obtaining a police certificate of good character. The registry forms part of the 21st Century Policy Initiative which was introduced by Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs at the start of his two-year tenure. On May 3 last year, in response to a convicted sex offender who had gained employment at a prestigious all-girls secondary school in Port-of-Spain, Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh announced a similar registry. In making the announcement, Dr Ramadharsingh said the information would be available to the public through an online registry. This registry was announced to be part of the purview of the Children's Authority, which forms part of Dr Ramadharsingh's ministry. Up to late yesterday, the T&T Guardian could not confirm the status of Ramadharsingh's proposal. While speaking at the police daily press briefing at the Police Administration Building, Sackville Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday public information officer Sgt Wayne Mystar first announced the plans for the registry.
"Each division is mandated to have records of that and will make notes of sexual crimes and predators. We will have a record and it has been adopted by the Police Service," he said. Mystar admitted to not having the full details of the plan. He was quoted as saying: "A member of the public may have a concern and can go and access the information. Critical information can be exchanged." When contacted, late yesterday evening, Sgt Mystar admitted to not being fully apprised of the database and said further details would be announced at today's press briefing. He noted the TTPS recorded a rise in the number of reports of sexual offenses for the first three months of the year, an almost 100 per cent increase. "People are now coming forward with what was once a secret," he added. Meanwhile, there have been mixed reactions to the registry. Head of the Police Witness and Victims Support Unit, Margaret Sampson-Brown said she fully supported a list of those convicted of serious sexual offences being placed in police stations. However, she said, a sex offenders' list in every police station was good but care must be exercised in deciding who went on it, since it could stigmatise someone for life. Sampson-Brown said the list of offenders must comprise those whom the authorities have deemed to have no remorse for their offences, have not conformed to rehabilitation programmes and were not interested in them.
She said she did not imagine that first-time sex offenders would be, or those who have been rehabilitated, on that list. She said she supported a list of serious repeat offenders, because the police needed to know every member of their community in order to police it effectively. Gregory Sloane-Seale, co-ordinator of the National Security Ministry's Citizen Security Programme, who works in at-risk communities and has been involved in the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents for years, was more cautious. He said: "I am not totally against it but it is something that needs to be done with a lot of careful thought. "A sexual predator is a creature of habit and I think the police need to know who in the community has such tendencies." Sloane-Seale said a sex offender displayed a pattern of behaviour that needed to be altered and could be treated through therapy. He said there were different categories of sex offences. For instance, he said, a 20-year-old who committed statutory rape with a 15-year-old may be someone who made a wrong choice. Sloane-Seale said a sex offenders' list should be decided on a case-by-case basis according to categories of offences.
(With reporting by Derek Achong, Camille Clarke and Yvonne Baboolal)