President of the Police Social and Welfare Association ASP Gideon Dickson says the morale of police officers have been affected after eight members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) were arrested and charged with murder.
The policemen were charged with the 2020 killing of Joel Jacob, 38, Noel Diamond, 46, and Israel Moses Clinton, 27, in Morvant.
On Tuesday, Sgt Joseph Solomon, 44, Cpl Charles Budri, 55, and PCs Sherwin Baptiste, 41, Mark Lewis, 41, Vaughn St Cyr, 39, Sean Lord, 42, Jameel Mohammed, 42 and Colin Furlonge, 39, appeared before Port of Spain magistrate Brian Debideen to face the charges.
They were remanded into custody and are expected to return to court on August 16.
Speaking with Newsday on Wednesday, Dickson admitted the morale of police officers was “not at the highest.”
He said while officers were committed to their duty, the arrest and charging of their eight colleagues were the latest in a series of problems.
“Our morale has been impacted significantly over the past couple of years for more reasons than one, but this situation further dampened the morale of the men. However, we still remain committed to serving the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“One of the things the public may not know is that our leave has been restricted since December 2019, we are now getting back to a state of normalcy.
“We have had to endure three elections, one Carnival. We have had to endure within those three elections a global pandemic – an act of destabilisation. We have had to endure hundreds of changes in the public health regulations, we have had to endure a state of emergency, we have had to endure officers dying from covid19. So we have had to endure all of those things, not with the best working conditions or all the tools to work with.”
Asked to respond to rumours that officers of the IATF refused to go out on patrols, and requested transfers out of the unit since the charging of their colleagues, Dickson said while he could not confirm whether or not they were true, it was not the habit of police officers to neglect their duty.
He also hoped all of the facts in the criminal matter would be considered to ensure due process was followed, and the officers were given a fair trial.
“I can understand that officers are emotional at this point in time, but the record will also show that is not how the police operates.
“This is not the first time police officers would have been brought before the court coming out of an operation, and you would see we will continue to do what we had to do because we have sworn an oath to the people of TT.
“It’s just that as servants of the State we would also like the protection of the State.
“We should take all the facts into consideration and that’s what the inquest court and the coroner court is there for.”
Contacted for comment, a senior IATF officer dismissed claims that officers refused to go on patrols and argued there was perfect attendance for rostered officers.
He said the unit respected the decisions of the court and promised that police officers would continue to serve the public as best as possible.
“All officers turned out to duty today (Wednesday). No one has called in sick, and no one has asked for any transfer out of the unit.
“We are a professional unit and we take policing seriously.
“The morale of the men is relatively high. We follow the rule of law, and we support the police being able to investigate other police officers.
“It is for us as a department to ensure the officers concerned get the best support we can give to them in this time of difficulty.
“The IATF is a strong body, and we will continue to work in a professional way to maintain and ensure public safety.”
He said the IATF, which has responsibility for east Port of Spain, Sea Lots, Beetham Gardens, Laventille and Morvant, has been effective in tackling gang violence and murders, noting a drop in the number of murders in these areas compared to years before.
He also said the unit has been active through various community outreach programmes namely the police youth clubs and the IATF Hearts and Minds programme.