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Police officers conduct a roadblock exercise on Lady Hailes Avenue in San Fernando yesterday.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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Police Commissioner Gary Griffith says citizens who choose to flaunt the Government’s Stay-at-Home orders and go onto the nation’s road if they are not essential workers or going on essential business will have to prepare themselves to be caught up in daily roadblocks by police.

This warning came yesterday, even as his officers caught thousands of motorists in roadblocks set up across the country. The action caused traffic gridlocks for hours throughout the day as the officers did not let up on the roadblocks until late evening.

In an interview with Guardian Media, Griffith said the islandwide roadblocks that caused the traffic jams were set to become a daily routine, as he said over the past 72 hours the public had gotten complacent about the Public Health Ordinances in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

He said police have been monitoring traffic on the nation’s road through their Command Centre since Government had ordered non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers to stay home.

The trend, Griffith said, was light traffic between 6 am and 6 pm and mostly clear roads between 6 pm to 6 am.

“What we have seen, however, over the last 72 hours, there has been a great increase in traffic and it is obvious it is not because of persons who may be deemed as employees in essential businesses or persons who are going to acquire goods and services from these essential services. It means that persons who are not any of those two are now starting to go along the roadways, so it means obviously that persons are starting to become very complacent,” Griffith said.

He said the change in pattern on the roadways led to the enforcement of the Government’s orders in a way that left many citizens questioning whether it was a repeat of the July 2019 ‘Day of Total Policing.’ Back then, there was also traffic gridlock across the country as police conducted roadblocks at various locations.

But with the Police Service on Orange Alert, Griffith yesterday the latest exercises may become the new normal if citizens fail to adhere to repeated calls to stay at home.

“The more they stay on the street, the longer there would be traffic congestion at times. I would state this is going to be quite a long while. We intend to intensify these roadblocks throughout the country, so if you go out there it is possible you can remain in traffic for several hours. So to avoid that, stay at home,” Griffith said.

He said essential workers, many of whom yesterday complained bitterly on social media about being made late for work by the gridlock, will be allowed to pass through the roadblocks with less hassle than those with no reason for being on the road.

“If you don’t have a reason or justification, they would very well spend some more time scrutinising and doing some investigation to verify the reason for you being on the road. It doesn’t mean that you are breaking the law but what you are doing is affecting individuals, you are breaching policies,” the CoP said.

“We are here to persuade persons to adhere to policies and to enforce laws. I am not going to cross it, so in situations where persons have a legitimate reason for being on the road, obviously, they will move out faster than individuals who do not.”

Griffith said if there is a marked reduction in vehicular traffic, the police would reduce the number of roadblocks but if the traffic continues on the current trend, the roadblocks will increase.

Speaking during the daily press conference yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the roadblocks were part of the COVID-19 response. He said the country has a very active and aggressive Police Commissioner and the exercises were being co-ordinated between the TTPS and the Minister of National Security.

On social media yesterday, comments on a Guardian Media online story about the roadblock earlier in the day varied. Many praised the police and chided their fellow compatriots for being outside.

“People starting to get restless and idle like they don’t know how serious this thing is until it happen to them once you have food and water, rock back home, play some cards or games clean yuh yard or something don’t risk yuh self being out there,” one user wrote.

However, some took the opportunity to criticise the police and the Government, as one user wrote, “Trinidad people stupid, we not under no state of emergency, (SOE) and people have things to do. All yuh studying the wrong thing. Why you have to qualify to get money from the Government. It have a lot of hungry families in this country but this government only studying to put up roadblocks. That not making no sense.”

How yesterday’s roadblock exercises went

Trinidad:

8 am-11 am

• Joint roadblock exercises, roving street checks and foot patrol duties (along Brian Lara Promenade) were conducted by the IATF, CID and the PoS Division, with the full support of the Mounted and Canine Branch, Port-of-Spain Task Force, Traffic and Highway Patrol Branch, Operation Command Centre, Air Support Unit, Finance Branch, Audio-Visual Unit and the Port-of-Spain Municipal Police.

• Roadblocks took place at five strategic locations in the Port-of-Spain Division, along the Eastern Main Road, Priority Bus Route, Beetham Highway, St Ann’s Round-a-bout and the corner of Sackville Street and Wrightson Road.

• Seventy-six Street Check Forms were completed, one ticket was issued and one person was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

• Approximately 5,525 vehicles were intercepted with approximately 9,825 persons aboard.

• Many were in the ‘non-essential’ category. Some indicated they were on their way to the bank and supermarket.

Some gave ‘inconsequential’ reasons for being out such as:

—“Ah going to sell ah dog”, —“Ah going to cool meh brain in Carenage”

—“Ah just going to meet meh boyfriend”.

• The T&T Guardian was also told that some members of the public serving in the essential services did not have employment identification but produced old letters from their alleged employers.

• Police Commissioner Gary Griffith confirmed the exercises were incident-free in Trinidad.

Tobago

8 am-11 am

• Officers of the Crown Point Police Station stopped and sent home over 75 persons.

• Over 1,000 were in the area of Orange Hill, Bacolet and the town of Scarborough.

• More than 75 persons were sent home by the officers attached to the Scarborough Police Station.

• Officers attached to the Moriah Police Station stopped and sent home over 50 persons in the areas of Les Coteaux, Providence Road, Moriah—all of whom were non-essential persons.

• Officers from the Roxborough Police Station stopped and sent home over 215 persons who were non-essential.

• Police confirm that persons could not give a proper account for being on the roadway. Four persons were arrested – 2 for House Breaking and Larceny, 1 on outstanding warrant and one person was held for using a recording which was deemed to be obscene.

• Exercises in Tobago were incident-free.