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CHIEF of Defence Staff Brigadier General Rodney Smart says the Defence Force has “moved troops into” Lion's Gate in Chaguanas to “put a lid on that situation” in Enterprise “with the aim of developing a similar type of model” used “in Laventille with members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.”
And as the nation's military continues to play a more integrated role in law enforcement Smart says, however, “one of the big challenges” in giving military personnel who operate with the police in joint patrols powers of arrest similar to that of the police centres around whether the society wants to have the “Defence Force who is supposed to be your last resort quick response unit being tied down in court”.
He made the comment in an exclusive interview with TV6 News which aired in three parts last week, as Prime Minster Dr Keith Rowley announced on Friday that Defence Force/Police joint patrols would form part of security arrangements for Carnival 2017.
Rowley, who is also the Head of the National Security Council, spoke of the joint patrols in response to a question posed by the United National Congress (UNC) MP for Point-a-Pierre, Dr David Lee, about the specific plans if any the Government intends to implement to protect both local and foreign participants during this Carnival Season and beyond.
The power of joint patrols
In the TV6 News interview, Smart revealed a new joint operation that TV6 News understands was the initiative of National Security Minister Edmund Dillon.
“Enterprise has been on fire for a while and while you're seeing now a simmering of the events we want to make sure that we have put a lid on that situation. So what we've done now. We have moved troops into a community, Lion's Gate community in Chaguanas with the aim of developing a similar type of model that we have used in Laventille with members of the Trindad and Tobago Police Service,” Smart said.
He spoke with TV6 News in his office at the Defence Force Headquarters in Chaguaramas on January 6th.
He said this is model is being replicated in other parts of the country in North and South Trinidad.
In January of last year, he gave an instruction to Brigadier General Smart “to instruct the defence force to operate in conditions determined by them to operate virtually permanently in communities where criminals have armed themselves and have determined that the population is in siege.”
Deploying soldiers to work alongside the police in joint patrols is nothing new and neither is the question of whether policing powers of arrest should be granted to military personnel who operate on those patrols.
A police military or military supporting police?
The People's Partnership administration sought to bring legislation to give soldiers on joint patrols with law enforcement policing powers of arrest.
Asked if such legislation is something he thinks is needed to help put the Defence Force in a better place to assist law enforcement or you satisfied with the existing status quo where they support the police and the police make the arrests, Smart said, “In whichever of those two models you have described there are positives and there are negatives.
Smart says the Coast Guard already has the power to detain people at sea but the issue of granting policing powers to the wider Defence Force must be a discussion for the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago to have.
“One of the positives is you have more people who can arrest. One of the things we must always remember when we're speaking about arresting powers as well, is to remember each citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, including members of the Defence Force, have the powers to arrest in serious arrestable offences. Each citizen has that power,” Smart said.
He said this includes a citizen's power of arrest for crimes such as murder.
Smart said if a citizen sees “somebody committing murder” the person can make a citizen's arrest.
“The Defence Force can do that without any additional powers,” Smart said.
He said what the society and the Government should consider carefully is what happens if the wider Defence Force is given additional powers to make arrests as the police do.
“One of the big challenges you have is do you want to have your Defence Force who is supposed to be your last resort quick response unit being tied down in court because now you have to go to court, there are cases to be tried, etc, etc. When really what you want; you want your Defence Force to be doing is training and be prepared for those events that would challenge our society,” Smart said.
UNC MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal, a former member of the Cabinet under the PP administration spoke with TV6 News in January of last year just after the Prime Minister gave his instruction for the military to “operate virtually permanently in communities where criminals have armed themselves and have determined that the population is in siege.”
“If you are going to permanently place soldiers on the streets in this country you in effect creating a state of emergency and you are not giving the soldiers the requisite powers to assist properly the police service,” Moonilal said.
No plans for policing powers for soldiers
In February of last year, TV6 News spoke with Dillon about whether the administration plans to bring similar legislation to give soldiers policing powers.
“No we're not looking at that at this point in time. The soldiers, the Defence Force, in particular they are in support of the police and we think that is working quite well,” Dillon said.
Asked if there were plans at least in the foreseeable future to review that particular situation Dillon said, "Let me say there are no immediate plans. it's not something that we're gonna rule out entirely but there is not immediate plans to review that.”
TV6 News was informed by a high ranking Government source yesterday that there has been no change to this policy.
The source said as the Government is monitoring the situation, it continues to be satisfied with the Defence Force/Police joint patrols as is.
Is the Defence Force ready?
The Defence Force, however, was not established for law enforcement.
Smart was asked if the Defence Force was ready for its core mandate of defence given its well-integrated role with law enforcement.
“Certainly, yes. The Defence Force will always be ready for defence. It means though we will have to work our troops harder. We have to find more creative ways in terms of employing them. The challenge that faces Trinidad, the immediate challenge because we always have to separate the threats that we face into immediate, long term, the immediate threat that faces Trinidad and Tobago seems to be crime and therefore the capabilities we have could be used to assist the Police Service and other law enforcement agencies in reducing crime,” Smart said.
What the law says
Section 3 (2) of the Criminal Law Act states “any person may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, in the act of committing an arrestable offence.
Section 3 (3) of the Act states “Where an arrestable offence has been committed, any person may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, guilty of the offence.”
The Criminal law Act defines an arrestable offence in Section 3 (1) which states: “ The powers of summary arrest conferred by the following subsections shall apply to capital offences or offences for which a person (not previously convicted) may, under or by virtue of any written law be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of five years, and to attempts to commit any such offence; and in this Act, including any amendment made by the Law Revision (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 1) Act 1979 in any other written law, “arrestable offence” means any such offence or attempt.”
Section 46:2 of the Police Service Act states that “Without prejudice to the powers conferred upon a police officer by subsection (1), a police officer, and all persons whom he may call to his assistance, may arrest without a warrant a person who within view of such police officer commits an offence and whose name or residence is unknown to such police officer and cannot be ascertained by him.”
SOURCE: Daily Express
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