PORT OF SPAIN – The police investigation into the March 23 “day of total policing”, which caused nationwide traffic jams and outrage, has found the events of that day were not linked to protracted wage negotiations and officers involved committed no criminal act.
One of the recommendations contained in a report of the findings, however, is that Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams call all divisional and station commanders and remind them of their duties, as well as reprimand them for the day of exercises.
On the morning of Monday, March 23, police officers set up multiple road blocks along highways and major roads, resulting in massive traffic jams, flight delays, school disruptions and the loss of millions of dollars by the business community.
Inspectors, assistant superintendents and superintendents were subsequently stripped of their power to initiate road block exercises.
At the police’s weekly news briefing yesterday, Williams revealed a report on the incident identified certain “disciplinary breaches” with respect to the commands given by the heads of divisions and stations.
He said Assistant Commissioner Vincel Edwards submitted the report to him on Tuesday, but it will not be made public.
Six divisions were identified in the report, Williams noted.
“The investigator has reported prima facie there is the issue of disciplinary breach, and he has identified the divisional commanders in the various areas for which the road exercises were conducted and some of the station commanders who may be subject to issues around discipline,” Williams pointed out.
Asked if the report touched on the link between the “day of policing” and wage negotiations, Williams said there was no evidence to support that connection.
As to what disciplinary measures can be taken against the officers involved, Williams said: “As the head of the organisation I cannot pronounce on a matter like this unless the matter is investigated consistent with the Police Service regulations. The regulations has laid out a whole list of procedures to be followed in pursuing matters of discipline.
“Following the laid-out regulatory procedure the ultimate authority for imposing sanctions is that of the CoP, and that is where I sit, at the end of the process,” he stated.
Williams said the report has also identified “some revealing facts and gaps” with regard to police procedures.
He said the Police Service will be moving swiftly to improve its policies, procedures and systems to ensure there is no recurrence of the events of March 23.
“The gap had to do with the implementation at the lowest level. That is the gap we have to effectively bridge to ensure that whatever you communicate from the level of the executive goes straight through the organisation in the form to be implemented and executed consistent with whatever is your projected mandate,” Williams said.
“We want to give the public the clear assurance that it’s never the intention of the Police Service to disrupt the smooth flow of traffic or disrupt the operations within the country,” he said.
Although describing the “day of total policing” as a brilliant concept which has been effective in reducing the number of serious crimes over the past year, Williams admitted the results of the event did not “turn out to be brilliant”.
Williams said the “day of total policing” was carried out throughout 2014 and has been carried out in divisions, sections, branches without disruptions.
“It’s not something that was introduced as fresh and new on that particular day (March 23),” he said.
“Total policing day has been carried out in 2015 on many other days other than that Monday, and we did not have the disruptions. So total policing day is not abandoned,” he said.
He added: “We are truly realising a level of reduction, and it is that reduction that we would not be backing off from by changing our strategies and initiatives. We will be revisiting and improving our strategies and initiatives. We have realised a 27.8 per cent reduction in serious crimes in 2015 compared to the same period last year.”