At about 3 am, the 300 police officers, along with K-9 dogs, took up strategic positions at Duncan, Nelson, Prince and George streets while Defence Force soldiers ensured that there was no entry in or exit out of the cordoned off areas.
The mission was to flush out criminal elements and seek out arms and ammunition, also drugs, believed to be hidden in Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartments along those streets.
As officers searched every single apartment along east Port-of-Spain soldiers kept close watch ensuring their colleagues had full back-up.
During the exercise, persons were jolted from their sleep by the sound of officers knocking on their doors while others who were liming on stairwells looked on and subjected themselves to searches.
For close to seven and a half hours the 300 police officers, some using K-9 dogs, searched several apartments while others even used metal detectors in an effort to ascertain if any arms and ammunition were buried under the ground in the areas being searched.
Also during the search, the roofs of all the apartments were also checked for concealed arms and ammunition and drugs.
At the end of the exercise, 90 persons were arrested, among them four women who were charged with possession of narcotics.
Speaking to reporters during the exercise, ACP Glen Hackett said the persons were arrested for various offences including murder and they were handed over to the Homicide Bureau for further investigations.
He said police arrested persons on outstanding warrants and suspicion of having committed serious offences inclusive of shootings and robberies and narcotics.
Several divisions of the police and national security forces were utilised in this exercise including Northern Division, North Eastern Division, Central Division, Southern Division and Eastern Division Task Force. As well as the Coast Guard, Air Guard, Multi-Operational Purpose Squad (MOPS), Criminal Investigations Unit, Criminal Records Office (CRO), court and process, criminal gang and intelligence unit. Amalgamated prison vans were on site to transport those arrested in the exercise.
Hackett said officers seized drugs but did not confiscate any firearms or ammunition.
“We are here to bring a level of confidence to the law-abiding citizens that the police willing to act on their behalf where they are perceived to be in jeopardy with respect to lawlessness,” he said.
In addressing the issue of persons illegally occupying HDC apartments, Hackett said they had a few people in custody in relation to that.
“We will be engaging with the HDC to verify our findings because persons who have been making these assertions have not come to the police to report these incidents so we are unaware at this point in time as to which apartments until this morning have been illegally occupied,” he said.
Hackett said the initial plan was to search the whole of Duncan Street and Nelson but they lacked the resources so they looked at the most volatile area which needed to be given priority.
“Rest assured police would not sit back and allow anything to happen, we will continue with this effort in other areas also at some point in time in the future,” he said.
The exercise was welcomed by the hundreds of residents who said they were fed-up of the constant killings, shootings and crime in general in East Port-of-Spain. However, others declared that the exercise may not have resulted in the arrests of the real perpetrators of crime in the area.
One woman said after the Prime Minister visited on Friday along with the Police Commissioner and other top brass of the police and Defence Force several of the gang leaders and members fled the crime infested community and went into hiding. Residents believe they will return after the police presence is minimised in the area and while they welcomed the putting up of a police/army post in the area, they feel it will do little or nothing to solve the problem.
Residents said what they have witnessed in the past is a clear case of police officers being afraid of the criminal elements in East Port-of-Spain and on most occasions it is very rare that police patrols can be seen in the area after certain hours.
Residents believe the police service needs to have soldiers heavily armed patrol the streets round-the-clock and discard the idea of setting up a police/army post.
At the end of yesterday’s exercise some residents said they felt a bit comforted about the exercise but they would like to meet with Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams to make available to him some suggestions of their own.
“We are in the heat and we know what it is like to feel hot, so instead of persons in high places sitting in their ivory towers and making decisions for us, why don’t the police come to us and ask our suggestions?”
Yesterday, Williams at the end of the exercise, said, “the police service has undertaken to address the recent crime fight with extensive work around targeted areas and most of the murders which occurred within recent times occurred within the PoS division and in those circumstances we have heightened our activities to address the problem. We continue to remind law-abiding citizens that the fight against crime is one which requires the support of the citizens for it to be very successful but we would be doing everything possible to ensure that all areas of Trinidad and Tobago especially the areas of East Port-of-Spain are safe.”