After reviewing footage of Monday’s armed robbery at Pennywise Plaza, La Romaine, security experts say the Allied Security Services officers were “doomed to die” in the ambush, which they believe was well planned and rehearsed.
Retired Major of the Defence Force and Air Support Tactical Security chief executive officer Dirk Barnes, said while the criminals were prepared for the attack, they had no tactical training. Despite this, he said, the surprise of the vehicle interdiction and volume of fire overwhelmed the officers.
“Doomed to die, that is what that was because they were outgunned, the enemy had superior firepower, had more sustainable ammunition and on top of that, they would have come with armour defeating rounds because 5.56 would have passed through the traditional level IIIA vests that most security officers and police officers wear while on duty,” he said.
“So they did not have a chance at survivability.”
Following the incident, many people questioned why the officers did not use an armoured vehicle instead of a regular unmarked pick-up.
However, according to Barnes, their approach was a tactically valid one and having such a vehicle would have made little difference.
“The rounds that are used, which would have been the 5.56, are armour defeating rounds. If those were used, regardless if it was a soft vehicle or an armoured vehicle, the outcome would have been the same,” he said.
If they were able to respond to the threat, Barnes said the same outcome was possible because they would not have been able to sustain the gunfight with the assailants because security officers are only legally allowed to carry 25 rounds of ammunition for their weapons.
The former head of the Special Operations Response Team and founder of the MH Tactical Response Group, Mark Hernandez shared a similar sentiment about the incident’s survivability.
“As a professional, I would want to say that their options would have been bankrupt,” he said.
“They (the assailants) were using the bigger bang theory. They would have known that those officers would have been armed so they used ambush as the recipe for destruction. So they would have suppressed them and overwhelmed them with a high volume of ammunition and defeat the will of the persons.”
With the attack taking place in broad daylight with shoppers and other motorists around, Hernandez advised people to always be aware of their surroundings and be ready to act in self-defence early enough to avoid becoming victims in such incidents.
The three Allied officers were exiting the plaza after collecting a large sum of cash Monday afternoon, when a vehicle pulled in front of them.
Five gunmen immediately exited the vehicle and opened fire at the officers’ vehicle. Security camera footage showed it only took 38 seconds for the assailants to pull up, open fire on the officers, take the bags of money and flee the scene.
Officer Jeffrey Peters, 51, reportedly died at the scene while Jerry Stewart, 49, died on the way to the hospital.
The third officer, Peola Baptiste, was shot in the head and remains warded at the San Fernando General Hospital.
Police later shot and killed four of the gunmen in a house a short distance away in Pond Street, La Romain. Police recovered an AR-15 at the scene of the robbery along with several spent shells.
According to Barnes, these high-powered rifles would not have entered the country through any illegal port.
“Those weapons did not come on a pirogue, it did not come on an illegal port of entry, it came through...legal ports of entry. Those are AR-15s, (and) normally come from the United States. It means that somewhere in our system we had a customs official who turned his head in the opposite direction to allow those weapons to enter Trinidad and Tobago. We need to face facts,” he said.
He said it is likely there are more AR-15s in the country than those used in Monday’s attack.
Apart from access to the rifles, Hernandez said, it is also concerning there is access to the 5.56 ammunition they require.
While Barnes said ambushes were seen locally in the past, the calibre of weaponry is new. He fears this will lead to more brazen cash in transit robberies and heists of credit unions and some remote banks.