Addressing a Joint Select Committee (JSC) hearing at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre in Port-of-Spain, Lee Sing said criminals are undeterred and unafraid when confronted by city police officers armed with handguns including the Beretta brand.
“The Beretta does not, as it is, engage the minds of the criminals,” Lee Sing told the JSC. “You need the kind of weaponry that would put the fear of God into their hearts.” City Corporation CEO Winifred David, said municipal police can’t carry the same kind of firepower that regular police officers use because municipal police are under the control of a mere civilian in the form of the CEO herself.The JSC was told that a request for an upgrade in the arsenal available to municipal police, to an unnamed senior police official over the past three years had apparently fallen on deaf ears. “There are places in Port-of-Spain, where if we go to do restoration or remedial work...fix sidewalks, box-drains, underground drains or replace manholes — you meet and are confronted with negative elements in society,” Lee Sing said.
“Now if the city police are there with good weaponry, you (city workers) may not be harassed. We have had a situation where at a job site in Clifton Circular, a man was shot on the job. So you need police officers, especially if you are sending them on a protection assignment for a work project...they (municipal police) must have the right equipment.”
Lee Sing said municipal police are limited to sidearms (handguns) and shotguns. “We require increased firepower, particularly as we seek to service jobs in east Port-of-Spain,” Lee Sing said. “You can’t go in there with a Beretta. You have to go in with something much more powerful.”
To upgrade weaponry, no new legislation is needed, but the Commissioner of Police must approve an upgrade request, Lee Sing said. He added that a senior officer to whom a request for an upgrade in firepower was made over the past three years, has not given a reason for ignoring the request.
Asked if the corporation’s CEO controls city police, who holds the CEO to account, Lee Sing said: “The Council, headed by myself and other members.” On whether or not city police officers are competent to use bigger guns, Lee Sing said a municipal officer undergoes the same training as regular police officers, at St James Barracks. He also pointed out that municipal officers earn far less than regular police officers.
“I’m not in a position to give name, brand and calibre,” he replied. Lee Sing said his views on this matter are echoed in a Port-of-Spain City Council report (covering the years 2005 to 2007) discussed at yesterday’s JSC hearing. “I am merely expressing the sentiments of the report. We are seeking to upgrade our arsenal to ensure we have the wherewithal to defend our position,” Lee Sing said. The JSC heard from a police superintendent that the Corporation has 81 municipal police officers, out of a capacity of 124 officers.
David told the JSC a small group of these officers, one of whom habitually takes extended sick-leave such as for a period of 256 days, has now been sent to the TT Medical Board for a check-up. Lee Sing urged MPs to amend the rules for disciplining corporation staff, saying, “There are people in this Corporation on suspension for two years...with pay! They get their law degrees in the meantime and then come back to us. They can’t be disciplined, as they are on loan to the Corporation from the Statutory Authorities Service Commission,” he lamented.