Plans announced recently by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and National Security Minister Jack Warner to give similar powers to the Defence Force as those of police officers are set to go a step further today.
Legislation to give members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) authority to function and perform the duties of a police officer will be laid in the Parliament today.
Concerned about the horrifying murders and the apparent spike in the murder rate, Persad-Bissessar, on February 22, summoned heads of the Police Service and Defence Force to a meeting at her Parliament office to discuss the crime situation and proposals aimed at addressing it.
After an "intense" meeting, Persad-Bissessar had announced the team had agreed to "increase the visibility" of the joint patrols and road blocks immediately.
In an Express report on February 15, Warner had promised the legislation would have been brought to Parliament within 60 days.
The murder toll now stands at 79 for the year.
A release from the Attorney General's office last night stated Cabinet yesterday approved and confirmed a note brought by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to give effect to this.
The release stated the proposed bill will give legal protection to Defence Force personnel when they accompany police officers to assist in the detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences.
"They will enjoy the same rights, privileges and immunities as police officers. They will have the same powers as police officers, including power to arrest, search, seize and to carry arms," stated the release.
Government, stated the release, will ensure Defence Force personnel would be trained in areas such as police practice and procedure, investigations, law and court process to ensure they are properly equipped to undertake their duties along side police officers.
The release stated further that Government has ensured that while members of the TTDF are to be placed on an equal legal footing and benefit from the same powers that police officers enjoy while actually engaging in operations with the police, they will not be permitted to embark on policing exercises on their own.
"In so doing members of the TTDF would be afforded the necessary protection in carrying out functions with the TTPS (Trinidad and Tobago Police Service)," stated the release.
The release noted that at present TTDF members enjoy no powers of arrest other than those possessed by ordinary citizens.
According to the release, the use of the Defence Force in the fight against crime is not new as soldiers have been accompanying police officers on raids and joint patrols during the last decade.
"Under the previous administration, soldiers were also drafted into SAUTT to assist the police in the detection and investigation of serious crimes," stated the release.
The legislative measure, the release added, will augment and increase the capacity of the Police Service and house such an initiative in a proper legislative footing.
"It can lead to an immediate boost and increase in the strength of the TTPS. It would also provide comfort and relief to members of the TTDF who have been involved in the fight against crime by ensuring that they are adequately protected in the performance of their duties.
"The TTDF will, no doubt, exercise these additional powers with the discipline, maturity and responsibility that has thus far characterised their involvement in the fight against crime by way of assisting and complementing the TTPS," stated the release.