Police Commissioner Gary Griffith on Thursday admitted it was unfortunate he had to issue threats to customers standing outside banks, supermarkets, pharmacies and markets for failing to comply with social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
However, his only disappointment was that he took too long to act to get these customers to do what was necessary.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Griffith threatened to close businesses where customers failed to comply with social distancing outside their premises.
However, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, in response to the issue, said the CoP had no power to shut the doors of banks and supermarkets.
On Thursday, however, Griffith thanked businesses in the private and public sectors for being instrumental in heeding his advice by placing markers six feet apart outside their doors in order for citizens to conform to the social distancing. Good sense, he said, had finally prevailed, adding there was a “total turn around” yesterday compared to the madness the day before (Wednesday).
“That is all the TTPS has been asking for because we have a responsibility to preserve life and to ensure law and order,” Griffith told Guardian Media in a telephone interview.
He said some institutions were only focussing on maintaining social distancing inside while people outside were not observing this nor were there any set structure.
“I don’t think they were taking this seriously. Everyone seemed to have turned a blind eye to the responsibility and to the ticking time bomb to persons who were congested on the outside,” he said, reiterating this was a recipe for the virus to spread rapidly.
“It is unfortunate that I had to use virtual threats which I do have the authority to do. I don’t make idle threats. It would have given me no pleasure to have to shut them down. My only disappointment is that I took too long. I should have made that decision before Wednesday.”
On his Facebook page yesterday, Griffith also wrote that within recent times many experts feel they know what powers the police have. He said there was a view that the police had powers to stop and arrest people and demand justification for them being outside a state of emergency.
“No, we cannot,” he said.
Others, meanwhile, hold the view that the police do not have powers to close a business if it is causing lives to be at risk.
“Yes, we can,” he said to this.
In other words, Griffith said, “The powers you think we have we do not. And the powers that you do not think we have, we most certainly do.”
Despite the move by most businesses to comply with his request yesterday, Griffith said to ensure law and order, over 100 emergency response patrol officers supported by 100 officers on motorbikes were dispatched outside businesses to ensure people did the right thing. The TTPS also monitored the situation via CCTV cameras.
Griffith said the vast majority of people gathered outside the establishments were senior citizens.
“Because of that I had to take decisive action,” he said, adding all the public needed was guidance, leadership and direction, which they followed after measures were put in places by the businesses.
Generally, he said people showed maturity and were responsible.
“That is what you call the law of common sense. Everyone got into their section,” he said.
He said a few businesses did not conform to the social distancing of their customers but the TTPS will ensure they comply going ahead.
Luckily, Griffith said no one was arrested for not complying with the order.
Asked if National Security Minister Stuart Young or the PM had reached out to him based on the stance he took on Wednesday, Griffith said there was no reason for either of them to do so.
“I don’t think there was a concern. I think there was a misunderstanding. How the question was relayed to the Prime Minister at that media conference, it gave the impression that the commissioner just decided to shut down banks and supermarkets permanently,” Griffith said.