Dr Winford James

Political analyst Dr Winford James views Government’s move to cancel the contracts of four private security firms retained to provide community patrols in residential districts as suspicious, curious and a cause for concern.

On Tuesday, the public was advised via a press release by National Security Minister Stuart Young that his ministry had engaged Amalgamated Security Services Ltd, Allied Security Ltd, Innovative Security Technologies Ltd and Protective Agencies Ltd to provide mobile security patrol services from April 6 to May 5 in various residential districts on a 24-hour basis throughout the country. The move, he said, was to support law enforcement officers by providing patrols and manpower in certain areas. The security officers, Young assured, were to have no additional powers.

However, less than 24 hours after the announcement, Young, at a press conference yesterday, cancelled the plan, saying the feedback from the public showed they felt safe enough with the work done by the T&T Police Service. Young also denied the cancellation was due to public backlash.

Hours after Young’s statement, however, James said to have the contracts withdrawn hours later was more than “a little suspicious.” He said there must have been a level of concern at Cabinet and the Prime Minister about the deployment of the companies, adding questions may have been asked as to why certain companies have been benefiting from the State’s coffers. James said while the Government had swiftly changed its mind, one would question what triggered this.

“This clearly has to be seen as a misstep. But missteps are made by governments all the time. But it would appear they have made a mistake in this case but they are trying to retrieve the situation as quickly as possible,” James, noting there was cause for concern.

“There is a democracy we ought to know. We don’t know and we just find it curious that Government, 24 hours after they came up with a measure for public safety and comfort, changes its mind.”

But former brigadier and national security minister Carl Alfonso said he supported the patrols by the security firms, noting they were similar to the Community Comfort Patrol programme introduced by the last administration.

“It was a good thing because you would need that assistance going down the road. This COVID-19 pandemic is not going to end next week, so law enforcement officers are going to be extending themselves. So you need many eyes and ears. We clearly could have done with that additional help,” Alfonso said.

He said if Government eventually calls a state of emergency during the pandemic, more hands will also be needed and the security officers could have assisted.

“What is happening in countries where the virus is spreading … you are going to get people behaving badly. Law enforcement has to be on top of the situation, we don’t have a choice, we just have to put many measures in place to avoid any fallout.”

Alfonso said the way the contracts were pulled will surely leave questions hanging.

“You are damned if you don’t and damn if you do,” he said.

Former National Operations Centre executive director Garvin Heerah also said the initiative was welcomed but said it lacked managerial approaches, coordination, research and planning which left him “disappointed.” He said an assistant police commissioner should have partnered with the security firms to engage in a community impact assessment to reach out to residents in areas that stood to benefit from the patrols.

“The entire operation should have been integrated with an emergency call system,” he said, adding such a move would have differentiated what calls the police and security officers can respond to.

“Obviously, this needed to be addressed before engaging the initiative.”

Heerah also said the fact that the public found out about the initiative via a press release left much to be desired and showed the decision to hire the firms was “rushed” and not carefully thought out.

“You cannot just spring a surprise on a community. It has to be something that is introduced consultatively.”

Heerah said the contracts could have been pulled because of some backlash or Government buckling under public pressure, but said he believes there is more in the mortar than the pestle with the contracts.

“It is clear to see that for some reason or the other the public was not comfortable with it at the time. In an effort of satisfying the nation, they pulled back. If the Government buckles under such a pressure, one would hate to think what is going to happen in the future when other serious issues are facing them.”