A man peers into a police vehicle as officers patrol along Prince Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Less than 24 hours after he announced it, National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday cancelled his ministry’s plan to hire private security firms for residential patrols, since he said people have questioned if it was necessary at this time.

Young confirmed this at yesterday’s COVID-19 media briefing. It followed Tuesday’s announcement of the plan, when he announced his ministry would be hiring Amalgamated Security Services, Allied Security, Innovative Security Technologies and Protective Agencies for 24-hour residential patrols throughout Trinidad up to May 5 in the first instance.

The ministry had stated this was to support law enforcement by providing further patrols and manpower in predetermined areas. The ministry issued a subsequent release assuring the private security wouldn’t have police powers. But the move was criticised in some quarters.

Yesterday, Young explained that pandemics always strain resources, adding his ministry had examined if the COVID problem required more measures and what options would have been available to relieve some areas to assist the police and army.

“We foresaw we needed to keep the public safe, especially if certain measures were implemented,” Young said.

He said private security was used in 2014 by the last administration in a pilot project and the four companies were the same used by the last government to patrol east, north, south and central, including in Lange Park, Chaguanas and Palmiste, San Fernando.

In 2014, the hiring price was $95,000 monthly, he said. But in this instance, Government got the price reduced to $87,00 for the month. The security guards would have only been “extra eyes and ears” to convey information to authorities if additional resources were needed in an area. They wouldn’t have had additional powers and were not to have been intrusive, he added.

But in the hours after he announced the plan, Young said “certain voices” said they feel safe enough and there was no need for additional security.

“We were very happy to hear they felt secure and didn’t need additional measures. Having heard from the population and those with the voices, in consultation with the Prime Minister we’ve taken a decision to immediately cancel this residential patrol system,” Young said.

Young, however, felt it wasn’t accurate to say the situation stemmed from social media backlash. He said information had come to him about a leak from a police station, after the Police Commissioner had asked patrols to go near police stations so stations would know what was happening. He said a “political operative” picked up on the leak and “ran with it” and another “political operative” did the same. He said he received questions on the issue after that, but didn’t have the opportunity to clarify.

Young added, “We’re not guided by social media but by messages from the public. This is solely a reaction to people asking if this is necessary now and we decided to cancel it … if people feel the police and Defence Force are doing enough and are capable.”

He said Government was listening to the public. He said he’s since asked the police and army to examine recently retired officers for a contingency plan if that’s necessary.

On why army personnel couldn’t have provided necessary security, Young said not every officer is out at the same time since rotations are used to prevent burnout. With increased COVID measures, he added the army’s been supporting not only police but Health and Social Development Ministries.

He said Defence Force officers helped prepare the Couva and Caura hospitals overnight for COVID patients and have been securing hospitals and assisting in patient transport. The soldiers shifted the cruise ship passengers to Balandra when they returned to T&T and at 4.30 am yesterday, the Coast Guard transported a COVID-positive patient from Tobago to Trinidad.

Soldiers also outfitted the Brooklyn Settlement, Sangre Grande step-down facility for recovering cases and revamped the Riverside Plaza area where homeless people are to be located. The army’s also constantly supporting police, he added, noting the COVID issue affecting the Arouca Police Station and the recent jailbreak attempt.