| March 5, 2007 issue
Trinidad & Tobago
Cops under the gun
Criminals murder officer, shoot at others
By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo-Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain – On February 9, police constable Chris Barrath, 33, was attacked and killed by a group of men outside the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court on St Vincent Street. It was shortly after midnight.
The attack on Barrath occurred minutes after he had left Globe cinema, at the corner of Park and St Vincent Streets, Port-of-Spain. He had 14 years’ service with the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. A security camera which police were relying on to provide solid evidence against the men who attacked one of their own was not functioning.
A police officer assigned to the court disclosed that the camera, which is hidden at the corner of Duke and St Vincent Streets, was not working for some time. All was not lost, though.
Homicide detectives said they were using workable images they had retrieved from other security cameras in the area.
Police have since charged Davon Walker, 22, and Kernel Charles, 19, of Charford Court, Port-of-Spain, with Barrath’s murder.
The non-functioning camera has since been repaired, and quietly so.
The police officer who admitted to the camera not working was upset.
“What if something happens to a magistrate coming outside the building? This is a big magistrate court. Everything supposed to be working in tip top shape. All kinda people come here. What supposed to be working ain't working, they wait till a man life loss to fix the camera.”
Barrath’s killing has highlighted several issues. One of them is that equipment of one kind or another is being purchased and installed or put in use, but little is in place to maintain it.
Barrath’s killing is not the first attack on police officers.
Another policeman shot at during the past two years was from the Northern Division Task Force. The shooting took place at Morris Street, Arima.
A recent shooting saw gunmen firing at the Malabar home of Cpl Keavin, head of Northern Division Task Force. Green has since relocated his wife and two sons as a precaution. He said some members of a gang are claiming the police killed their leader and planned to kill any officer. He said his sons are also afraid to return to school.
Also an officer of Northern Division Task Force was shot at during a robbery nearby his Maloney home; a female officer assigned to Morvant Police Station has been the target of the criminal underworld; six officers assigned to Northern Division were also found to be on an underworld hitlist.
An officer who was assigned to the Tunapuna Police Station was shot while arresting a man in the district. The officer is on injury leave with a bullet lodged in his hip. Another officer, who was assigned to Court and Process Branch, was shot in an attempted robbery in St Augustine. He is now crippled and at home on injury leave.
Another officer reported to the Arima police that he saw two men lurking his car at his Maloney Gardens home. They fled when he raised the alarm.
And WPC Elizabeth Sutherland and family members were shot dead at her Morvant home.
Officers of Northern Division Task Force officers have complained of a lack of protection after they have been threatened by members of the criminal underworld.
Bharrat's killing led to Corporal Emrol Bruce, president of the Police Second Division, calling for Police Commissioner Trevor Paul to allow officers to carry their weapons home for self-protection. Speaking at Barrath’s funeral, Paul said this is under consideration.
Dana Seetahal, an independent senator and attorney, supported Bruce’s call. It is only right that police officers be allowed to take their weapons home given the increase in crime, she said.
Given that crime has evolved to the point where officers have come under personal attack, Seetahal said police officers must step up their game.
"Many years ago police officers did not carry firearms. They used batons and in the past most criminals used cutlasses and knives. It was very infrequent that they carried firearms. However, given the increase of violent crimes, it is only right that the police officers be allowed to take home their firearms... It is ridiculous to say to the officers, 'Leave your weapons here and go about your business as usual.' They should be armed not only for their defense, but it is a reassurance to citizens, especially those who live in communities where gunshots are heard all the time that not only do criminals have guns, but the police officers are armed as well,” Seetahal said.
She noted the argument that some off-duty officers may use their firearms for unlawful purposes is not valid.
Some officers are not waiting for Commissioner Paul to make a final decision on whether they can officially take their weapons home. They are taking home their weapons and have the approval of their seniors to do so.
“We are scared not only for ourselves, but for our families, because those ruthless gang leaders and members will stop at nothing when they have a target in mind, and we know that they intend to kill a police officer to send a message to us,” said one policeman who takes his gun home.
Officers who are assigned guns have to sign the firearm issue register, the station diary and the pocket diary at the station where they are assigned before the weapons are given to them. They also make notes in the three registers at the end of their shift.
Several officers said they have not signed the three registers, and have taken matters into their own hands to protect themselves. They claimed their senior officer rarely check the registers, so it is possible for them to take the service revolvers home, even though they could face disciplinary charges under the Police Service Regulations.
“We are not waiting on the commissioner to make up his mind if to give guns to off-duty police officers, because at the end of the day, when we complete our duties and retire to our homes, unprotected, we are the targets, while the commissioner is safe in St James, protected by a battery of police officers,” an officer said.
Protection for officers has come under scrutiny as the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service is under increasing pressure to deal with the rising crime situation. The death toll up to late last week stood at 60 murders.
The People’s National Movement government, which got a second term in the November 2007 election, got an extremely low rating in the Trinidad Express' February report on its first 100 days in office, especially on its handling of crime.
Opposition leader Basdeo Panday has also criticised the Patrick Manning-led government for its decision to lend assistance to Guyana, in the wake of two mass murders there, yet is unable to protect its own citizens from the criminal elements.
The government plans to send special arms to Guyana to help its counterparts who are investigating the massacres in Lusignan and Bartica, which took place on February 17 and January 26, respectively.
It helps little to ease citizens’ fears that in January, National Security Minister Martin Joseph said in Parliament that there are roughly 86 criminal gangs in Trinidad and Tobago, with between 1,290-1,720 members.
Speaking in June 2005, Minister Joseph said the number of homicides increased from 104 in the period January to June 2004, to 152 in the same period in 2005. He also said there were 66 known gangs in Trinidad and Tobago, with 500 "hard core members."
Joseph also declared that the the government “will not allow a small group of criminals to threaten the safety, security and well-being of our nation. We will not allow these criminal elements to ruin or compromise this country’s inexorable drive towards developed nation status by 2020.”
Body found may be missing JP Best
Port-of-Spain - Police believe the decomposed body found on Saturday at Maraj Trace, just off Quarry Road in San Juan, is that of Justice of the Peace Winston Best.
Best was reported missing since last Sunday, hours after he left his Cajuca Street, Morvant, home.
He is the second JP to be murdered in less than a year. In April last year, JP Asquith Clarke was shot three times in the chest while standing in the gallery of his Tunapuna home.
The body was discovered by the police, who received a tip-off. The corpse was covered with a multi-coloured sheet in a cesspit hole, eight feet deep.
Detectives said his hands were tied behind his back with rope and the body had been in the hole for approximately four to five days.
Police declined to speculate on the cause of death, saying they preferred to await results of the autopsy scheduled for tomorrow.
Investigators said the body was in the same clothing in which Best was last seen.
Relatives had told police Best left home with a man who claimed his sick mother was dying and wanted him to make a will at her Trincity home. He was last seen leaving his house in the company of a “young man who called himself Mr Clarke.”
Best had been dressed in a vest, cream-coloured, long-sleeved shirt, and brown pants.
Based on the state of the body, detectives said hair-sampling, fingerprinting and dental record checks would all be used to confirm identity of the body.
A report said officers at San Juan Police Station received an anonymous call saying there was a body in a bushy area off Quarry Road. They responded and combed the area twice before locating the body, which was in a hole amid pea and mango trees.
Officers, led by Asst Commissioner of Police (Homicide) Maurice Piggott, visited the scene.
The body was viewed by the district medical officer and ordered removed to the Forensic Science Centre.
Police said two men from the San Juan area were in custody.
Best is the second Justice of the Peace killed within less than a year. On April 26, 2007, Justice of the Peace Asquith Clarke was shot three times in the chest at his Railway Road, Tunapuna, home. No suspects have yet been charged for Clarke’s death.
Detectives said Clarke was murdered because he had witnessed evidence to be given in a court matter.
Clarke had been handling ten high-profile matters, including the deaths of WPC Elizabeth Sutherland and her family members.
Residents claimed the area where Best’s body was found was a haven for thieves and murderers. One of the residents said her family was living in fear after witnessing gunmen terrorising neighbours and brandishing guns.
“We always making reports to the police and nothing is done,” she said.
“As soon as you say something about the hill, they are not coming. They (gunmen) on the road during the day, running with guns. You play that you don’t know nothing before is two of us in that hole,” she said, pointing to where Best’s body was found in the hills.
Govt to negotiate sale of local ‘Taj Mahal’
Port-of-Spain - The government is caught between a rock and a hard place and now must negotiate to purchase the historic Boissiere House at 12 Queen’s Park West. The current asking price is (TT) $45 million.
This is the view of noted Trinidad and Tobago historian Gerrard Besson, who told the media that Charles Boissiere, who built the architecturally exquisite house as a love gift for his wife, Alice Boissiere, was a third cousin of this country’s first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams.
They were both descendants of French creole planter Jean de Boissiere and his African mistress ZuZule and the house could be seen as Trinidad and Tobago’s equivalent to India’s Taj Mahal, which was also a love gift, Besson said.
Besson’s prediction comes after the Opposition UNC-A invoked a little-used standing order in the House of Representatives on Friday, to force the government to announce its intentions with regard to the four-bedroom building, popularly known as the Boissiere house.
Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj used the Standing Order 17 (1) to persuade deputy Speaker Pennelope Beckles to allow him to press the government to give an immediate oral answer on whether it intended “to intervene to protect the gingerbread house as a building of historical interest and thereby to prevent its sale to the private sector.”
Maharaj successfully argued that there was a public outcry to prevent the history-steeped 104-year-old house from falling into private sector hands and thus the 21-day period for the question to be listed on the order paper should be waived.
In response, the government shielded Community Development and Culture Minister Marlene McDonald from answering. Instead, Leader of Government Business Colm Imbert rose to indicate that while Cabinet had considered the matter of purchasing the house, no decision had been arrived at which could be communicated to the Parliament.
Imbert said: “I am unable, on behalf of the government, to give any definitive information at this time.”
The daily newspapers on Friday carried an advertisement from the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, advising it was moving to have the Boissiere House declared a heritage site, which would guarantee its preservation from alteration or additions, regardless of whether it remained in public or private hands. National Trust chairman Vel Lewis confirmed that it had recommended to the Culture Minister that the State take action to preserve the house.
Sources say there was healthy debate about the endangered house which was put up for sale on the international market by owner Greta Elliot, a descendant of the Boissieres, last January, at an asking price of (TT) $63 million.
Besson, 66, the owner of Paria Publishing Company and a former advertising company executive, said the pressure being brought to bear by the Opposition UNC-A would force the government’s hands.
“What is involved here is a lot more than an old house. It is now being politicised by Ramesh and the UNC. They have their ear to the ground in a particular kind of way and what is being expressed is the idea, the notion that this house represents the built heritage of Trinidad and Tobago. This is forcing the government to consider setting a precedent and buying the house,” said Besson. He added the government should not only purchase the Boissiere House but should come up with a good way, in consultation with the National Trust, of making use of it.
The same applied, he said, to the state-owned Mille Fleurs and Stollmeyer’s Castle, two of the Magnificent Seven buildings around the Queen’s Park Savannah. Besson said the built heritage of Trinidad and Tobago was fast disappearing, which meant the collective inheritance of nationals was endangered.
Institutions like Trinidad and Tobago Television, Caroni(1975) Ltd and BWIA could be equated on the same scale as historic buildings.
“When institutions are destroyed a sense of continuity is destroyed, a sense of meaning in society is destroyed, and people have a sense of displacement and meaninglessness. That is why people sense that this building, if it is destroyed, will contribute to the sense of loss in society,” said Besson.
He said he used to give tours of Port-of-Spain on Sundays to view historic buildings but had stopped because there were few such structures left to see.
Retired principal calls for corporal punishment in schools
Port-of-Spain - A retired college principal and school supervisor is calling for the return of corporal punishment as the last gasp means to return discipline to schools, where both principals and teachers have lost the respect of pupils.
Clifton De Coteau, who is now a councillor in the Princes Town Regional Corporation, says if teachers do not want to put a licking on troublesome pupils, the children should be sent to the police station for appropriate punishment.
De Coteau said he expected his comments to be deemed controversial, but said he felt that extreme measures needed to be taken in the education system.
He chaired a police town meeting at St Julien Village, in the Princes Town North constituency late last month. His suggestions brought applause from a standing room-only crowd, who came to hear what the police could do to improve security in their area.
De Coteau, who was principal of St Stephen's College, Princes Town, spoke out about the growing indiscipline in schools, including the stabbing death of pupil Shaquille Roberts at the Success/Laventille Composite school.
De Coteau said: "I feel strongly that principals and teachers have lost their authority. I feel suspension is not enough. I know there are support systems, but are they working?"
He said many of his colleagues in education, in a bid to give their schools a good name, had swept under the carpet problems that were coming back to hurt them.
De Coteau said the cadet force should be in all schools.
"I still honestly believe that the best channel to the brain is through the derriere. Strokes, and if they can't do it send them to the police station." He said pupils should be taken to tour prisons, where inmates could shout "fresh meat" and offenders be sent to jail when taken before a magistrate.
British national to
be new Top Cop?
Port-of-Spain – While the formalities of the process are yet to be completed, there is a great likelihood that a British national will be appointed as this country’s next Commissioner of Police.
The Briton was among 38 candidates who applied for the (TT) $25,000-a-month job, which was advertised in the local press and on the Internet, last August.
With global experience in the fight against crime expected to play a pivotal role in the eventual selection of a new Commissioner of Police, the British candidate appears to have the edge over the other candidates, said a source close to the selection process.
Apart from the mandatory qualification of a degree in law, criminal justice, criminology, police management and/or other related fields from a recognised university, candidates also will be assessed on their ability to function in the global environment, especially with other international law enforcement agencies and intelligence-gathering networks, the source said.
He said the successful candidate must have experience operating within a jurisdiction in which the laws were similar to Trinidad and Tobago’s, since this would better position him to exercise his independence to weed out corrupt elements in the police service.
“By and large, Trinidad and Tobago still operates under British common law and the British Privy Council remains the final court of appeal for criminal matters, so that also works in the (British) foreigner’s favour,” said the source.
National Security Minister Martin Joseph is scheduled to travel later this week to London, where he is expected to meet with the British crime management expert, who the source said was the most likely candidate.
Joseph declined to comment, stating only that an appropriate media release will be issued in due course.
TT gov' t helps out Guyana
with helicopter, equipment
Port-of-Spain - Trinidad and Tobago is sending Guyana a supply of arms “of a special type” plus a helicopter to help track down fugitives following two massacres in that country, says Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Manning was commenting on the Guyana crisis at a joint news conference with visiting Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson.
Security had been one of the issues both discussed at their meeting, after Thompson’s arrival.
Manning said the security situation in Guyana had deteriorated with the occurrence of two massacres.
Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister Martin Joseph was in touch with his Guyanese counterpart on the situation and agreed to help in tracking down the fugitives in the current issue.
Manning said Caricom governments shared the view that crime should not be allowed to get further ahead than it already had.
Many of the crimes in territories were drug-related, he added, and Caricom states were at one in collaborating in fighting this.
Thompson also extended sympathy to the families of the people who died.
“We feel the issue of crime and security should be high on the regional agenda in decision-making... It is one of the biggest threats to orderly development,” Thompson said.
He added that crime and security were regional issues of major concern — especially drug-interdiction and patrols to prevent this. “Barbados has pledged to work more closely with Trinidad and Tobago on the issue,” he added.