Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith insists it is “absolute madness” for anyone in authority to contend that a gang member without pending criminal charges can continue receiving State contracts, ostensibly challenging a statement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that it is solely the duty of the Police Service to bring down criminal gangs.
Griffith doubled down on his position on Friday as he responded to the argument that police trying to crack down on gang violence should gather evidence to charge gang members under the Anti-Gang Act.
Griffith has repeatedly called out the State for funding criminal enterprises by giving gang leaders lucrative contracts for infrastructure projects.
Police have blamed gang violence for the recent surge in homicides.
As the murder count barrels toward 300, the T&T Police Service (TTPS) yesterday confirmed that 19 people were killed between Sunday and yesterday afternoon.
The commissioner said the police should not be singled out for what persons in leadership fail to do.
“It is absolute madness that anybody that holds a position of authority could feel that by giving criminal elements funds and money that you feel you could actually be Pontius Pilate, turn a blind eye, and throw blame on the Police Service. I will not in any way have anyone throw blame on the Police Service when they are not doing their job,” Griffith said during a telephone interview with Guardian Media yesterday.
“You do not try to feed an enemy and then after tell law enforcement to deal with the enemy,” the commissioner said.
At the post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was asked to respond to the contents of a Special Branch report which said seven gang leaders had benefited from multi-million contracts from two regional corporations controlled by the incumbent People’s National Movement.
Rowley said the Government is “not going to get involved” in the responsibility of the TTPS to gather evidence and charge gang members. He said government passed the Anti-Gang law in Parliament to make membership in a gang a criminal offence, giving the TTPS the legislative tool to bring gang leaders to book.
He said if there is information that someone is a gang member, “then they should be charged. And not being charged for getting a contract but being charged for being involved in gang activity.” He stopped short of addressing whether someone suspected of being a gang leader should be receiving funds from the State.
Griffith said yesterday he did not want to respond to the Prime Minister’s comments.
But he insisted, “There will be civilians who will not understand law enforcement. Because someone is involved in criminal activity it does not mean that you can easily arrest them.
“A civilian will not understand the difference between information, intelligence and evidence, so telling people, ‘Well, you know who the criminals are, so arrest them.’ it does not make any sense.”
The commissioner said gang leaders invest the revenue from State contracts into other businesses. He said they also use the funds to buy-out officials in the Judiciary and law enforcement, making it difficult to mount a successful prosecution under the Anti-Gang Act.
Griffith sits on the National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. The National Security Minister, who is the line minister for the TTPS, is also a member of the council.
Asked whether he has spoken directly with National Security Minister Stuart Young about yanking State contracts from the hands of gang leaders, Griffith said it would be inappropriate to comment on confidential communications with the minister.
But Griffith did say the TTPS has given the State “all information required to show that the State is making it difficult” for police officers to crack down on gang violence.
“The State, through intelligence, you can verify that these individuals have been instrumental in criminal-related activity. Why give them taxpayers money through State contracts?” Griffith questioned.
Does the commissioner believe members of government are listening to his appeals?
“The jury will be still out on that,” he replied.
Does he believe he is being set up to fail?
“I will continue to do and say what is required to make this a safe country and if it falls in anyone’s garden, well, in local parlance, it’s a hard luck,” he responded.
Guardian Media sent questions to the Prime Minister via WhatsApp on Friday asking why the State would wait for an official charge to redirect contracts away from people whom intelligence suggests are involved in criminal enterprises.
He did not respond.