TTPS clarifies its position and the new COVID-19 Regulations on street food

GARY GRIFFITH, Commissioner of Police.

The following is a statement issued by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), in which Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, seeks to clarify the TTPS’ recent handling of street food vendors, in light of the current COVID-19 Regulations…

TTPS DID NOT ENGAGE IN ANY FORM OF DISCRIMINATION—IT WAS NEVER ABOUT DOUBLES   

Over the last few days, there have been many comments, finger pointing, blaming, and accusations in relation to a directive by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) that was authorized by the Government for itinerant food suppliers to cease business.

Unfortunately, it has given the perception that the Police may have misunderstood what was directed, as even stated by a newspaper editorial, and even some stating that it was discrimination, hence alluding that the Police were involved in discriminatory practices.

The Police Commissioner, Gary Griffith, wishes to clarify such misconceptions.  

There would, as expected, be daily amendments to deal with COVID19, and the TTPS would be mandated to act on it, be it persuasion if it is a policy, or enforcement, if it is a new or amended regulation.

On Saturday 4th April 2020, the TTPS commenced operations for ALL mobile and road side vending to cease. At no time was there any directive given or regulation made to the TTPS to ban doubles vending. That is where the accusation of discrimination is being wrongly perceived.   No Police Officer was given such a directive. They were told to inform all relevant food suppliers that all mobile and road side vending was to cease, be it doubles, corn soup, gyro, shark and bake, hamburger, or souse. Doubles is not the only roadside, mobile, or street food vending supplier in the country. 

The directive from my office to all Police Officers to enforce this ruling, was after I attended a meeting held with the Minister of National Security, the Minster of Health and the CMO, and it was decided that all itinerant vending was to cease, which is what the CMO briefed us on, in keeping with WHO standards recommended to deal with the pandemic.

An editorial alluded that the Police may have misinterpreted what was required. I wish to clarify that the TTPS never misinterpreted anything, as it stated that a certain doubles vendor did not fall into that category of road side vending, because they were selling inside a building.

We wish to verify that it did, as itinerant, roadside or mobile vending is not solely food suppliers being on the road, but also entails where the sale transaction and distribution of the product take place, whereby in this situation, the customers lined up on the road awaiting to collect food.

Additionally, one cannot just find a building that has a window overlooking a pavement, and daily bring in portable equipment and cooked meals into the said building, and then sell it through a window to customers who are lined up on the road, with no rest room and other facilities mandated for the sale of food, and believe that this is not itinerant or road side vending.

The TTPS wishes to also remind all that such vending, prior to, during, or after this pandemic is illegal.  To sell food, one must follow the laws regarding the Municipal Corporations Act and the Summary Offences Act.

If there was a doubles, restaurant or food distributor who had such requirements and was selling doubles, then the Police would not have intervened, hence showing that doubles was not the factor in the Police operation, but the prevention of all itinerant, road side or mobile vending.

The COP however, in keeping with our culture and history, would remain flexible and allow such after this crisis has ended and new regulations cease, if such vendors do not cause traffic congestion and do not affect pedestrian movement.

The TTPS has found it very difficult to adhere to implementing policies and enforcing laws during this period, as the lines at times may be seen as blurred by some, who then try to challenge it, hence on a daily basis, we have been involved with numerous debates, and conflicts with many citizens who want to test, challenge and query the policies and regulations that are being established to preserve life, and not just over what is perceived as itinerant or not, or the type of food sold, but even over which establishment can be opened or closed in relation to alcohol sales, and essential services. 

Persons trying to sell food, which was prepared elsewhere, and transported in coolers, then brought into a building, overlooking the pavement and then selling it to customers on the street, was just one of those efforts used to “beat the system”.

Now that the last regulation has come out, the lines would no longer be blurred, but the TTPS wishes to inform the public that the TTPS does not discriminate and whilst we remain flexible, there are certain policies and regulations that must be adhered to, and we are obligated to conduct such duties.