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More good cops than bad cops in TTPS

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More good cops than bad cops in TTPS

More good cops than bad cops in TTPS

PCA: Increase in complaints against police officers (run over headline)

Since 2019, approximately one out of every 24 officers in the T&T Police Service (TTPS) has been charged with a criminal offence.

Over the last five years, more than 2,260 complaints were made to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) about the conduct of police officers. More than 1,640 were criminal complaints – an average of 328 criminal complaints a year.

From that, 204 cases were forwarded by the PCA to the Commissioner of Police, 59 to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, and 33 were sent to both the CoP and the DPP.

Additionally, between January 2019 and July 2023, 268 police officers appeared before the courts on criminal charges – an average of five officers per month, according to figures provided by T&T Police Social and Welfare Association President Gideon Dickson.

In 2021, 81 officers appeared before the court. Last year, 56 officers appeared before the court and so far this year 27 officers have been before the courts.

In February 2022, former Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob revealed that in the previous four years more than 500 police officers had been investigated by the TTPS’ Professional Standards Bureau (PSB).

There are around 6,500 police officers in the service.

Over the years, police officers have been charged with murder, robbery and extortion:

  • In July 2022, eight officers were charged with the murder of three men in Morvant in 2020. The murders sparked outrage in Port-of-Spain with protestors marching through the city demanding justice.
  • Last August, a police officer was charged with killing colleague PC Clarence Gilkes in Diego Martin. Initially, police at the scene claimed a resident shot the officer, and a controversial manhunt followed.
  • In February, an acting police inspector was charged with misbehavior in public office after allegedly soliciting money from the owner of a bar.
  • Also in February, a police officer was charged with assaulting a traffic warden.
  • In April, seven police officers were charged in connection with the alleged extortion of several businesses in Sangre Grande. They were charged with several offences including misbehavior in public office.
  • This month, an officer appeared before the courts for charges related to three different matters. He was charged with discharging a firearm within 40 meters of a road, common assault and transferring ammunition.
For some time there has been a public perception that widespread corruption exists within the TTPS, as supported by the findings of several TTPS public confidence surveys over the years.

Last week Saturday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, on a political platform in San Fernando said: “One of the problems that we have is that there are too many criminals in the police service.”

He said that on FBI advice, a decision was taken to create a better-paid, specialized ‘vetted’ unit in the TTPS.

“One of the requirements of that agreement is that we, in the police service, in order to interact with their service and preserve the integrity of the operations, that we need to have vetted units, where we can rely on the integrity of the officers who will be given certain corridors of activity and certain corridors of information,” he said at post-Cabinet last week.

His announcement of a vetted unit was criticized by some, including former Police Service Commission (PSC) member Martin George and Dickson.

Dickson said the Association will not be supporting the establishment of a new unit, given that the Professional Standards Bureau, and the Anti-Corruption Bureau already exist with similar mandates.

George, on the other hand, said while the PM’s proposal sounded good on paper, it could be a recipe for disaster creating a feeding ground for greater corruption.

Since 1958, the findings of several reports and committees have called for reform of the TTPS, stating corruption was present. Among the reports/committees were the O’Dowd Commitee in 1990, the Bruce Commitee in 1978, the Darby Commitee in 1964, the Police Executive Research Forum in 1990, the Carr Commitee in 1971 and the Lee Commitee in 1958. The Scott Drug Report, laid in Parliament in 1987, claimed that approximately 40 to 50 per cent of officers were corrupt.

Corruption endemic to T&T’s society

According to criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad, people have to be very careful in labelling the TTPS as corrupt, as to his knowledge, there are no reliable estimates of the extent of corruption in the service.

The coordinator of UWI St Augustine’s Criminology Unit admitted, however, that the Prime Minister might be privy to data that he does not have. Dr Rowley is head of the National Security Council.

Acknowledging that some degree of corruption exists in the service and many other public agencies as well, Dr Seepersad said the PM’s idea of vetted units is a good one, but the mechanisms for the unit to be effective must be put in place – something he said will not be straightforward.

“You can create the legislation. That’s not too hard to do. And, of course, it’s already illegal to engage in corruption. You could put things in place for the creation of these bodies (vetted units) and I also think the processes are something that could be fairly easily done because you could do background checks, drug tests, psychometric testing, character references from people in the neighbourhoods.

“But what is really the difficult part is detecting and dealing with corruption. Now the nature of corruption is that it is very hidden from view. People would not go and advertise that they are corrupt…And the kind of money as well involved in some kind of corruption, let’s say you’re colluding with people who are selling drugs or with criminals, you’re going to be getting cutbacks, and quite often those cutbacks could be quite substantial compared to what you are earning. And that’s a big incentive. And there’s a culture of corruption among some persons in the police service – they will operate as a closed unit, and people wouldn’t necessarily know,” he said.

According to Dr Seepersad, much like the country’s problems with murders, there are likely to be issues with detection given that corruption is endemic to T&T society. He recommended that the Prime Minister pull experts together to try to figure out how to develop effective processes and means to gather information and successfully prosecute corrupt officers.

“I would tell you that one of the things they should do when they write that legislation is making the penalties so stiff that police officers are really going to think twice or three times. That would be my honest thought. And that is something by itself that could probably put a very quick and serious dent. I’m not someone who is generally in support of excessively severe penalties, but under some circumstances, severe penalties are warranted.

“The Minister of National Security is trying to push a bill that will allow for background checks to be done on people in public office across the board, so we could try to detect if there’s the possibility of corruption, for example by using Financial Intelligence Unit data to see if people have funds far above what they’re earning.

“So the bigger picture is that there is indeed corruption in Trinidad and Tobago which stymies development. It really has a very, very negative collective effect on our national development. And in the case of the Police Service and other protective services, corruption is something that could work against dealing with the crime situation,” the criminologist said.

Asked if raising the entry requirements for police officers could potentially lift the standard of policing, Dr Seepersad said current entry standards are acceptable, given the levels of training and vetting available.

“Yes, there is the argument that if you raise the bar you help in the professionalization of the service by attracting persons of a different caliber. But having said that, we create a low bar, but other entities in the country set the bar at the same level. And we bring the candidates at that level up to another level. Let me give you an example.
“At UWI or UTT, you may know that with five O’levels – including Maths and English, which is about the same requirement for the service – you can get into an entry-level certificate programme or a preparatory programme that once you pass it, and that’s a one-year programme – this will allow you to matriculate into a bachelor programme.
“If you could do something like that at university – and I’ve seen many students come through that route eh – and they finish their degree, go onto their masters . . . I honestly don’t see why we can’t be doing it at the Police Service as well, and the training is there, the vetting is there, so that the person is brought up to a certain standard that they can serve as a police officer,” he said.

Create a National Bureau of Investigations

According to regional security expert Garvin Heerah, it cannot be dismissed that there are rogue elements in the Police Service and all arms of national security, including immigration, Customs and Excise, as well as the Ministry of Finance. He said the idea of a special vetted unit with extra pay is not bad, but it opens up many portals for negative fallouts, resistance and miscommunications.

Heerah believes a more effective option would be forming a National Bureau of Investigations.

“What we need is a national unit, properly vetted, properly paid and resourced to investigate officers from all national agencies and not only National Security. This unit must have the authority and the governing Act/Legislation to carry out its duties. Because, without that muscle anything being hurriedly planned and established without thorough checks and balances, without thorough research and experimentation, without examining the pros and cons and without spearheading a pilot project approach, would be exposed to serious legal challenges, that could be embarrassing.

“Pattern this unit in parallel to the international models, and let this be the unit to investigate rogue officers from all national agencies, corruption at all levels and Transnational Organized Crime. There can be a consideration to expand this model to service the Caricom geographics, with a CBI – Caribbean Bureau of Investigations (CBI),” he said.

HMICRFS Report – Systematic measure of police corruption does not exist.

While corruption is endemic in the TTPS, a systematic measure of police corruption does not exist in T&T, according to the findings of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICRFS) Assessment on Gang-related Homicide and Police Corruption in T&T.

The British Criminal Justice Inspectorate, HMICRFS, assesses the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire and rescue services. The assessment was commissioned to examine the current state of research evidence on gang violence and police corruption in T&T.

The findings were published in March.

“A systematic measure of police corruption does not exist in the country. However, a small body of research indicates incidences of corruption within the Trinidad and Tobago police, with links to excessive use of force, the illicit drug trade and gang involvement. Public opinion surveys reveal a widespread perception of police corruption.

“A number of determinants have been shown to influence levels of police corruption and are linked to the wider national and organizational culture in which a police force is embedded, as well as situational and individual factors such as police attitudes, beliefs and experience of alienation.

Any strategy developed to address corruption within the TTPS will need to bear all of these factors into account and prioritize the need to address the apparent endemic political corruption within the nation in which the TTPS is embedded,” the assessment found.

In its recommendations to tackle police corruption in T&T, the assessment said it is important to recognize that the TTPS is influenced by a wider system of governance in the country. It said, therefore, that any attempts to reform corruption in the service are unlikely to reach their full potential without support, recognition and investment from the government.

“Strategies should be considered that promote an organizational culture of integrity and by so doing, reinforce staff resilience to corruption. This would require: Leadership and senior officers within the force to be supportive of the reform process and ‘set the example’ to all officers of lower ranks; Recruitment processes that adequately assess officers for views and characteristics, which are supportive of an ethical and collaborative approach to policing; Investment in ongoing staff training and review for officers of all ranks, with a focus upon ethics, integrity and community policing methods.

“Links with job dissatisfaction, ‘alienation’ and corruption to be borne in mind, and police equipped with adequate resource and support to undertake their role. The stress and demand of the role would need to be recognized by management with responsibility for ensuring the provision of practical and emotional support to officers throughout the TTPS; a clear reporting process to be developed for officers of all ranks throughout the TTPS to report their concerns, with reassurance that all reports of corruption and/or misconduct will be dealt with fairly and transparently and crucially, that appropriate action will be taken; emphasis on the importance of an independent police complaints process. Similarly, attention should be given to ensuring the existing regulatory framework and anti-corruption legislation is fully implemented and adhered to,” it recommended.

Commissioners of Police

Between 2007 and 2023, six different commissioners of police led the TTPS. The longest-serving CoP during that period was Stephen Williams who acted in the post between 2012 and 2018. As part of their mandates, the CoPs promised to tackle corruption in the service.

In 2009, former Acting Commissioner James Philbert oversaw an audit of police stations that he said would ensure accountability and transparency. Later that year, he revealed that 250 officers were suspended between 2014 and 2019 for serious offences. Philbert was fired after three years in office.

In 2010, former Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs called on the public to assist the TTPS in removing rogue elements from the service. He sought to assure the public that all complaints against officers would be investigated.

“Whether it’s drinking (and) driving, whether it’s disobeying all rules of the road and is driving, and if you see them taking bribes . . . There is no room in our service for that . . . Lodge a formal complaint by writing it down, and presenting it to the (Police) Complaints Unit. They will investigate any of your complaints. Whether the complaints on the conduct of the member (of the service) or the fact that the member hasn’t conducted themselves in a manner that’s appropriate,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs lasted just two years in office before resigning.

In 2013, former Acting Police Commissioner Williams promised to prosecute and expel corrupt officers from the service. He was answering questions following a report that two police officers were being investigated for leaking information to gang leaders.

“As an organization, we have to work hard at fixing the image of the Police Service, to move it from a negative image to a positive image. We have to do cleaning up, that is why we have to investigate any complaint against police officers and if necessary, prosecute these officers.

“The service intends to investigate and prosecute corrupt officers and to ensure that ‘bad eggs’ are not recruited. As an organization, once you have bad eggs, it pains you because you really want an organization which meets the public perception of a police officer, that is, a police officer who is honest, has the highest level of integrity and is a true professional,” Williams said.

In 2020, William’s successor, Gary Griffith, also identified corruption in the service as an issue that needed to be urgently addressed.

“Police officers are supposed to be more disciplined and have less rights than the average citizen as the police officers is expected to be at a higher standard, unfortunately in Trinidad and Tobago I see it is just the opposite.

“In the police service, if someone is transferred, they want to rush to court, to protest and fight for their rights. At times we transfer people on the basis of that individual’s training, other times it’s based on intelligence where we have seen or discovered police have assisted criminal elements.

He said the TTPS would be drafting recommendations to Parliament for laws aimed at tackling errant officers. Griffith’s contract was CoP was not renewed, and he was replaced by former acting commissioner McDonald Jacob who was succeeded by current commissioner Erla Harewood-Cristopher.

According to the Police Complaints Authority’s 2022 annual report, published earlier this year, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of complaints against officers from the 2021 period compared to 2022.

From October 2021 to September 2022, there was an average of 47 reports made against officers every month. The youngest alleged victim was eight-years-old, while the oldest alleged victim was 93 years old.

During the same period, there were 64 accusations against officers for murder, 159 for assault, 114 for misbehavior in public office, 333 for discreditable conduct, 302 for neglect of duty, 28 for malicious damage, 24 for larceny, 17 for firearm offences, 11 for sexual offences, 11 for fraud and corruption, and 93 for other offences.

However, 410 of the complaints were closed by the PCA with no further action, 45 were forwarded to the Commissioner of Police, 26 were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and four were sent to the CoP and the DPP.

By: Joshua Seemungal

More good cops than bad cops in TTPS

Guardian Newspaper Trinidad and Tobago

Martin Geroge and Co.

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