Friday, December 15, 2017

Not enough municipal police

Manpower shortage at ‘hotspot’ regional corporations...


FRONT-BURNER ISSUE: Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray, right, fields a question during Friday’s meeting of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. Seated from left are JSC members Joanne Thomas and Shamfa Cudjoe. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

Mark Fraser

The municipal police in hotspot areas of San Juan/Laventille and Tunapuna/Piarco regional corporations are both currently facing manpower shortages. 

The shortage of law enforcement personnel, among other staffing issues at both regional corporations, was highlighted on Friday at the Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting of Parliament at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

Insp Wendell Guzman, of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation, who admitted there are high levels of crime within the region of San Juan/Laventille, told the JSC that the current strength of the municipal police is 24 officers, which consists of one inspector, one sergeant, a corporal and 20 constables, who are special reserve police (SRP).

“The constables are SRPs on contract so they can leave at any point in time. According to the Act, the compliment should be ten constables, two corporals, a sergeant and an inspector...that is the sanctioned strength, but we don’t have constables, it’s SRPs that are making up the compliment. We don’t have any municipal police from Local Government,” said Guzman. 

He said an intelligence and enforcement unit has been established within the department to help deal with crime in the area surrounding the Croisee and the market in San Juan.

“With the new market coming on stream, there is a lot of—in local parlance—piping taking place around the area so we have since coordinated several exercises in conjunction with the central police and made several arrests.”

Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, vice-chairman of the JSC, asked about the high rates of crime in the region, to which Guzman admitted there is a problem with providing services in areas like Laventille—in Mango Alley and Wharton Street—where public utility crews are afraid to go in. 

“Oftentimes you have to provide police escorts to get the daily activities done...this takes away from team patrols.”

Guzman said there were even times when the officers were reluctant to go into the high-risk areas to work because of challenges with the wireless communication system. 

“All we have is shotguns and pistols and the central police go in with MP5s and stuff like that, so we have arrested something like six illegal immigrants at a house (in the region) where there were activities taking place and one of them was subsequently deported. So, definitely, based on intelligence there is a large number of illegal immigrants that are involved in illegal activities. They are largely from Jamaica and Guyana,” he added. 

Minister of Local Government Marlene Coudray, who sits on the JSC as a member, supported Guzman’s claims of having to use central police escorts to go into certain areas to provide services and said she has written to the Minister of National Security requesting security escorts for work crews from corporations to go into specific areas. 

“Diego Martin was one and Laventille. However, one has to be sensitive as a corporation. You have a high level of unemployment in a lot of catchment areas and therefore contractors are sent in there with their own workers in the face of these people who are sitting on the kerbs with nothing to do. 

“And that is part of the problem that has to be analysed carefully by the council. I am not saying we are encouraging that kind of conduct, but the corporation itself has to deal with the social issues within and try as far as possible to have people in those communities undertake work in those communities,” she added.

Coudray pointed out that all corporations have issues and challenges with shortages of staff, but assured that she would draft a note to Cabinet to address some of the issues San Juan/Laventille is having and they would be contacted soon. 

“The issue of the policing is on the front burner. The creation of parity has been put forward to the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), so as to be able to retain the municipal police,” who she said often leave for the central police after being trained by the corporations.

Inspector of police Judy Thompson, who also spoke of her challenges at the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, said when they encounter problems they ask the central police to assist them, but they too are understaffed.

“Tunapuna is a hotspot, we have the housing areas of Maloney, La Horquetta and Arouca. 

“I came in 2010 where I met only seven officers and then we had three SRPs...they  are since out of the system. Right now we have four officers, one pregnant  person, no driver, the inspector, the sergeant and two corporals,” she said.

Thompson added she is aware that a recruitment drive has started, but was not aware of how far the process had reached.

She said she tries with the little staff that she has to provide security to the building inspector who has to drop off notices, as well as the litter wardens.

“The sanctioned strength is supposed to be 14, we never got the 14. To cover all of the areas we have now, we could start off at a sanctioned strength of 48 and build our capacity from there,” said Thompson.