The Police Service only polices public events, not private events; so if every political party and group arranges their private settings and has their meetings, there is nothing that addresses the issue of policing, Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said yesterday.
“The only time police will police an event in the private domain is when individuals would have engaged the police and pay extra for that duty,” Williams told the Express in a telephone interview yesterday.
Williams was responding to a question based on a release issued by National Security Minister Gary Griffith on Friday stating law enforcement officials will be present at all political meetings to ensure a sense of public safety and security.
Williams said it was not his practice to comment on statements by the minister or the Prime Minister, not having been privy to Griffith’s release.
“He didn’t send something to me, he did not communicate with me. If he communicated with the media, I don’t know what he said. So I can’t comment on what I don’t know about. What I can share with you is that police do not police private events,” Williams said.
Griffith released his statement the morning after a meeting by political activist and former adviser to fired minister of the people Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, Barrington “Skippy” Thomas, morphed into chaos, when hecklers allegedly supporting the Government stormed the Himalaya Club while Thomas was giving a speech.
Griffith had in his statement advised “members and supporters of all political parties that it is against the law to disrupt, intimidate, incite violence or destabilise public order at the gatherings of other political groups”.
In accordance with Articles 46-50 of the Summary Offences Act of Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution, all political gatherings are allowed freedom of assembly without fear of intimidation or violence, he said, adding that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the lead law enforcement body, will be ensuring that all such gatherings are staged in a safe and secure environment.
“The Police Service is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the country is maintained. Once we are dealing with a democracy and the civil domain and there is no unrest where anarchy reigns you have a situation where the Police Service is responsible for the safety and security of our citizens. Clearly under the law, the Police Service is responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the population.
“The law carries a prescription as to what should happen for there to be a public meeting or public march (as contained within the Summary Offences Act). Normally political parties comply with those requirements...to seek permission to host public meetings,” Williams said.
He said he was not speaking about the Himalaya incident in particular, just regular police practice.
“If you are going into your politicking by way of public space- where the public is generally granted access, for example, a savannah or street corner, the restrictions are not there—you don’t have to pay (for the police) and you don’t have control over who goes in there,” he said.
He added that the National Security Minister has no obligation to get his permission or consult with him in order to issue any release, “so the minister is free to release whatever he feels relevant as Minister of National Security”.
Williams added that he had not received any update on the Himalaya incident.
“If there was a major incident, it would have been basically reported to me. Every division is run by a senior superintendent and he is responsible by law to manage everything that happens in the division. So unless there is a major incident generally involving crime, I would not receive an update; what I have is what I saw on television,” he said.
Yesterday, Congress of the People’s (COP) acting political leader, Dr Lincoln Douglas, called on all political parties to stop all actions that could have the potential for unnecessarily inflaming political tensions that could then become flashpoints for political violence.
“In recent weeks we have witnessed two incidents organised by different political activists which have used our democratic freedoms to create ugly situations which had the potential to provoke political violence. This is not the kind of politics we must practise in Trinidad and Tobago,” Douglas said in a release.
He noted that the Himalaya incident followed demonstrations outside Parliament last month involving Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) protesters and Government supporters.
“While it is our right to hold demonstrations, this right must not be used to create provocations and incite political violence. We do not need the law or police to tell political parties how to conduct themselves,” he added.