The San Fernando Business Association has come out in support of the Defence Act (Amendment) Bill, saying it is preferable to have a “police state” rather than a “criminal state.” Speaking at a public consultation, organised by the T&T Local Content Chamber on Tuesday night, its president Daphne Bartlett said soldiers have contributed positively in the crime fight.
Less than a dozen people attended the consultation. Bartlett told them joint army patrols had helped to reduce crime in San Fernando. “Given the crime situation in our country at this time and given the need for more police surveillance, we think we need more manpower and so we support this bill 100 per cent,” Bartlett said. She explained that the clause, which granted powers of arrest to soldiers for a two-year period, was commendable.
Bartlet added: “If we think they are taking advantage of the new powers they have, we will certainly call for a recall before the two years are up.” She added there were rogue police officers and soldiers who could face prosecution. “We can have them charged and prosecuted if they abuse their powers,” Bartlett said. She explained only 1,000 officers would be granted powers.
Bartlett added: “We want to believe they will be looking at their abilities and choose the best 1,000. “Some police are talking about a police state but I don’t have that fear. At this moment, we prefer to have a police state in inverted commas rather than a criminal state because we are reaching that point.” She said her association would support Government in the fight against crime.
“Whatever it takes at this point to bring crime under control, we are with you at this point,” Bartlett said. She added that joint army patrols in the southern city had brought a drastic reduction in crime. Meanwhile, businessman Derek Smith lamented that security experts were not being used in the anti-crime fight. He said: “We need to put people in positions who are in charge of security. Put people like Gary Griffith who have a wealth of knowledge on security matters.
“Politics is affecting crime because they are putting people who have no knowledge about crime on the Security Council.” He also said crime in San Fernando could be solved easily if policemen were posted on all the entry and exit points in the city. He also said security companies, police and soldiers could work together to solve crime, using an internal wireless communication system.
Criminal lawyer Jason Jackson explained that issues, such as the separation of power, rule of law and independence of the police, were causes for serious concern if the amended bill was passed. He pointed out that citizens had the power to make arrests, adding that the soldiers will be able to use their powers only when they are on exercises with the police.