FORCED TO TAKE CONTROL: National Security Minister Gary Griffith

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Minister knocks protective services for Oval cricket chaos

By Kim Boodram

NATIONAL Security minister Gary Griffith has called for a cohesive approach to managing large scale events, after witnessing what he said was an angry crowd of up to 1,500 ticket-holders being refused entry into the Queen’s Park Oval for last Saturday’s Nagico Super50 final cricket match.
Griffith said he was forced to personally take control of the situation and speak one-on-one with a number of heads of security at the venue, until his recommendation to allow the patrons on to the Greens, in the area formerly known as the Dos Santos stand, was taken up.
In a telephone interview yesterday, he said he wasn’t sure why so many ticket-holders were being barred entry but he condemned the lack of communication between heads of security, including the police and the management of the Oval.
“I had to roll up my sleeves and get involved,” Griffith said. “Obviously something went wrong.”
He added:
“And what I realised was that the there was no immediate communication between the relevant agencies. “We seem always to be dropping the ball when it comes to event management and what I would want to see in the future is the implementation of standard operation procedures and a venue centre.”
Griffith said at the time he started to take charge of the situation, frustrated patrons, confused as to why they were being refused entry with their legitimate tickets, had begun to bang on the gates.
The minister said he went into the venue to take a look and noticed that the area near the Greens, where the patrons were eventually put, was spacious enough to accommodate the crowd outside and did not breach any security requirements.
“I had to speak personally to the head of security, including the Oval’s private security, the police, the Fire Service, the cricket’s management and so on, to get it done,” Griffith said.
“It was during that time that I noted the lack of communications between these parties.”
Oval management then had to locate a specific set of keys to the entrance to the area.
Griffith said he will be meeting soon with law enforcement agencies to discuss this and other aspects of crowd management in situations like Saturday’s, since he also does not approve of the use of semi-automatic weapons in that type of environment.
He said he was appalled to see police on duty with these types of weapons, which he deemed inappropriate under the circumstances.
“I saw Guard and Emergency Branch officers at the venue with semi-automatic weapons, that is unacceptable,” Griffith said.
“You can’t go with rifles into a crowd like that. Shields and batons would have been the better option, in the event that the crowd needed to be managed.”
Griffith said this was an example of one of the way that police needed to become more “professional” in the dispensing of their duties. “Customer service training” for some arms of National Security, including police and Customs, has just been approved by Cabinet, he said.
While it was immediately clear what had caused the pile-up outside, Griffith said he did not believe that tickets were oversold but that the appearance of the crowd inside the venue might have led the Fire Service to make a “judgment call”.
He said there were patrons inside who were saving seats for their friends who were yet to arrive, by blocking the seats with clothes, bags and coolers and that his may have led some fire officers to believe that the venue was filled.
“A junior officer might make a judgment call, maybe rightfully so at the time, without clearing it with anyone and might make a decision to close a gate,” Griffith said.
He also knocked the co-ordination by the police of on-duty officers, saying he was informed that the Police Service would sometimes send up to 200 officers to an event but groups as large as 30 officers would then clump together.
The cohesive approach to security and management that will be used on Carnival Monday and Tuesday this year (March 3 and 4) should be employed at all large-scale events, Griffith said.
Saturday’s match between Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados was set to begin at 2 p.m. and up to three hours later, reports stated, a massive crowd was locked outside the Oval.
Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) president, Azim Bassarath, told the Sunday Express Saturday that Fire Services had taken the decision to close the gates because of the crowd. He said 8,000 tickets were sold by the TTCB.
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