Prisons officers protest outside Ministry …”COLLISION COURSE”

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Government Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and the Prisons Officers’ Association are on a collision course following the murder of prisons officer, Richard Sandy last Saturday night.

Sandy’s military funeral takes place on Wednesday. But it is being overshadowed by comments made by Hinds in Parliament on Tuesday and the association which has blamed the Government for the death of their colleague.

Hinds who has been shifted around from Ministry of Works to the Ministry of Public Utilities to being a Minister in the Attorney General’s office, told Parliament that prisons officers need to be more professional and ethical. But the association is not taking these comments lightly, according to one member.

Acknowledging that the association has blamed Government for the murder, Hinds urged prison officers to be professional and avoid situations.

He added, “If prison officers are going to engage in taking drugs into prisons, if prisoners are going to take cell phones into the prisons to arrange deals to be struck, if prison officers are going to get involved in relationships with prisoners’ families on the outside, if prisoners are going to be borrowing money from prisoners’ families,  these things have happened in the world and Trinidad and Tobago isn’t distant and separate from it.”

“So prison officers have to be more professional and ethical. You have criminals operating but we have to behave in a manner that doesn’t encourage or fuel that in any way.”

“We must resist it and ensure our own conduct as officers,  police, soldiers, immigration, Customs,  as we have issues in all these organisations with people who aren’t true to their oath and endanger the rest. We must deal with that frontally and very frankly. A lot that happens cannot happen without the complicity and support of elements of the State. “

On Tuesday, the association held a protest outside the Ministry of National Security in Port-of-Spain.

President of the association, Ceron Richards said more prison officers will be buried if the crime crisis gripping the country is not dealt with.

He added, “The purpose of this protest is to highlight the deafening silence coming from government as it pertains to the demise of our colleagues out there in society. With the last killing being that of Richard Sandy, we have taken note of this deafening silence from the State.”

“This morning we are at the AG’s office because he is responsible for drafting and bringing laws before the Parliament. We ask the government to enact a Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act similar to what exists in the United States, Australia and Northern Ireland, countries that face the same issues as we are facing in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Richards said law enforcement officers face attack by criminals daily. No one, not police or soldier or prison officer is excluded. “Law enforcement officers are not immune to this phenomenon as over 20 prisons officers in two short decades were killed in this country. In five years, over eight officers were shot and five murdered. Trinidad and Tobago has the highest rate of law enforcement officers killings per capita in the Commonwealth Caribbean.”

Richards said there is an extraordinary lack of commitment from the government and all previous governments pertaining to the issue of safety of officers. And what is worse, is that the current National Security Minister (Edmund Dillon) is a retired member of an arm of law enforcement, namely the military.

Richards added, “We are calling for this Act which gives qualified law enforcement officials the right to carry a concealed firearm after meeting a rigid criterion, for the protection of themselves and their families.”

“As a nation we cannot continue burying our heads in the sand. Criminals have gotten very brave and are challenging authority more openly.”

He said prisons officers are a key agent of the state apparatus to enforce the law and ensure the citizenry enjoy a crime free and good quality of life. However, officers are left demotivated because their very commitment to the State leaves them vulnerable to attack by criminals.

Richards called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, in his capacity as Chairman of the National Security Council and Minister Edmund Dillon, to meet with the association and work towards creating laws to protect citizens.
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