When Gary Griffith was appointed Police Commissioner on August 3, 2018, he took charge of an organisation riddled with problems, the most intractable of which has been the presence of rogue officers across the ranks.
That problem was uppermost last year when Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds, as chairman of a Joint Select Committee examining a report of the Police Manpower Audit Committee, described the T&T Police Service (TTPS) as “troubled” and “wounded.”
Events in recent days give credence to that statement as the TTPS is embroiled in controversy over the seizure and return of $22 million in cash in an operation spearheaded by its elite Special Operations Response Team (SORT).
Griffith, who led that exercise targeting a suspected pyramid scheme in La Horquetta, Arima, has launched a probe into the incident. It has placed him and the TTPS in a very embarrassing spotlight.
He has already released a lengthy statement hitting back at detractors who are questioning his law enforcement abilities.
The incident brings into sharp focus Griffith’s ongoing battle to weed out rogue elements from the police service. Earlier this year he expressed concern that it is costing taxpayers an estimated $50 million on 300 suspended officers who are still being paid either half or 75 per cent of their salary.
This is a problem Griffith has tried unsuccessfully to resolve. Its corrosive effect on the organisation was noted in the TTPS Service Operating Plan 2018 which stated that “misconduct of a few police officers generally undermines and overshadows these efforts, diminishes police legitimacy and negatively impacts public trust and confidence.”
There is now zero-tolerance of police misconduct and rogue officers, once caught, are subject to speedy completion of tribunals and severe penalties. Whether that is bringing about a reduction in police misconduct remains to be seen. The La Horquetta incident does not inspire confidence that there had been any real progress.
Griffith has often spoken against police officers who collude with criminals and has been working to improve the system of internal checks and balances.
However, those efforts must be supported by external support system that ensure officers carry out duties properly and are held responsible if they fail to do so.
Public confidence in the police will begin to be restored when the quality of police service delivery improves and corruption within the TTPS is wiped out.
This is not the sole responsibility of the Commissioner.
In the Police Service Commission (PSC) there already exists framework for oversight and accountability, particularly of the senior ranks, which can help strengthen integrity in policing. There is also the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) independently investigate complaints against police officers involved in criminal offences, corruption and misconduct.
The reality is that the TTPS has been in an unhealthy state for too many years for its human resource issues to be resolved overnight. However, fixing this problem must be the top priority.