More questions for soldiers fighting war on crime
The decision to take legislation to Parliament to give members of the Defence Force powers of arrest and similar powers as those possessed by the police is yet another indication that the People's Partnership Government has failed miserably to deal with crime in Trinidad and Tobago.
This latest initiative by the Government, like the State of Emergency which was declared in August 2011, is another knee-jerk reaction to the spiralling crime situation, which is apparently out of control.
Notwithstanding the assurances given by the Government that Defence Force personnel would be trained in areas such as police practice and procedure, investigations, and law and court process to ensure they are properly equipped to undertake their duties alongside police officers, a number of questions need to be asked and answered.
1. If the soldier-precept bill is passed, will its enactment be permanent or temporary? If it is a temporary arrangement, how long will it be in effect?
2. Will this piece of legislation require amending or repealing the Defence Force Act, under which members of the Defence Force now operate? Will the President of the Republic be replaced as the head of the Defence Force?
3. What will be the official status of members of the Defence Force when they work alongside police officers? Will they be soldiers acting as police or soldiers assisting police?
4. While engaged in operations with police, under whose command will they be operating? The Police Commissioner, or the Brigadier, or both?
5. What do the soldiers think about this initiative? We have to remember that when these young men and women joined the Defence Force, they did not sign up to be police or to do police work.
6. What about compensation? Now that soldiers are doing police work, they will no doubt be expecting adequate compensation. Did the annual budget take this into consideration?
7. How does the acting Commissioner of Police feel about this initiative? Was there any input from him on this important matter? Will he be willing to work with this arrangement?
While the Government might be well intentioned in bringing this bill to Parliament, and even if it gains parliamentary support, it is not likely to have the desired effect since it does not address the fundamental causes of criminal activity in the country.
A major factor in winning the war on crime is credible, competent and disciplined leadership at all levels, including the Government. At the moment, this type of leadership does not exist.
Further, this initiative may well be the first step towards a police state if the management and control of the joint police and army operations fall into the wrong hands.
Citizens must also be reminded and warned that those who are currently responsible for the security and safety of our country are individuals whom we can no longer trust.