...Jack tries to ease fears on army plans
SOLDIERS who will be given powers of arrest will only be able to use these powers when on joint operations with police, said National Security Minister Jack Warner.
He also refuted the notion that the Defence Force was being turned into "some esoteric parallel Police Service", saying this was what the previous administration did with hiring soldiers for the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago.
He made the comments while delivering a statement yesterday during the sitting of the House of Representatives at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
He noted that the the actual strength of the police service 5,500 at any point in time and "there is clearly a need to increase the capacity of the police service".
He said the amendment to the Defence Act states that while assisting the Police Service the soldiers will be granted the powers and authorities of the service.
"The power is clearly and specifically linked...to the provision of assistance to the police in the maintenance of law and order. This would ensure that soldiers would enjoy only the powers of police officers while actually on operations with the police and they cannot go on police exercises on their own," he said.
Warner pointed out that the soldiers will be entitled to carry arms and ammunition if necessary. He said the soldiers "selected for this special honour" will receive training on criminal law, police rules, practice and procedures, the ability to arrest, stop and question and search and seize.
"This training is a critical component and condition for the use of the army as a supplement to the police service," he added.
He stressed that while performing these duties they will maintain their status as soldiers and the issue of precepting does not arise. He also stated that during the State of Emergency in 2011 the President conferred powers of arrest on the soldiers.
"During that time our soldiers did not abuse or misuse their authority and legal status as soldiers with police powers during the SOE. Indeed...our soldiers demonstrated commendable maturity, discipline and responsibility," he said.
He noted that their lack of legal authority on joint patrols with police has resulted in a number of problems, included questions being raised about the admissibility of evidence obtained by Defence Force members on joint operations with the police.
He pointed out that while the primary function of the Defence Force was to "defend the sovereign good of the country and guard against any external threats" but "internal activity that threatens to undermine and destabilise a country also impact on sovereignty and is also properly within (its) remit".
Opposition MP Colm Imbert, speaking with the media during the tea break, described it as a knee jerk reaction to the crisis of escalation of crime and "typical of when Governments are under pressure".
"Simple little thing like giving soldiers the powers of arrest. That's all very well. But an arrest is only part of the process. Who follows up on the investigation? Who lays the charge? Who sends the file to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions)? Who prosecutes the person? Who appears in Court — are soldiers now going to appear in Court and give evidence and so on? Are they trained in the law of evidence as police officers are?" he asked rhetorically.
Fellow Opposition MP Donna Cox told the media she does not support the measure as soldiers do not have necessary training. Reminded that Warner mentioned training for soldiers she pointed out that the bill did not state the level of training and it could be "one day". —Julien Neaves