A 20-year-old Arima man has appeared in court charged with shooting at two off-duty police officers in an incident in Tobago last year.
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Focus on anti-gang results
Director of Public Prosecutions, Roger Gaspard seemed irritated by the efforts of the police to pursue the arrest of gang members during the State of Emergency (SoE) at a seminar hosted by the Law Association at the Hugh Wooding Law School on Saturday. “I regret to say that the law enforcement authorities may not have been careful enough in their use of the law,” Gaspard noted. “Perhaps this occurred in their haste to clamp down on the criminal menace in our society.” Rejecting the perception that the anti-gang legislation was a magic bullet for criminal activity, the DPP dismissed the enthusiasm for the potential of the law to suppress crime as being akin to the excitement that might have accompanied the arrival of sliced bread.
Citing the 236 people who have been arrested and released since the start of the SoE as evidence of a disturbing failure in law enforcement, Gaspard warned that police officers risked losing public faith in their execution of justice and reinforcing public sympathy for criminals. DPP Gaspard is in a unique position to speak on this matter, since all the cases brought under the act would have been referred to his office for prosecution, and his legal team would have the broadest possible view of the cases brought against citizens under the anti-gang legislation since the SoE was declared. If the DPP is willing to describe the police rush to charge as being pursued with “indecent haste” and to note that citizen’s liberties had been deprived “not so much by the law or the legislation, but the attitude of law-enforcement authorities to the legislation,” then those notes of concern should cause the ears of the Minister of National Security, John Sandy to perk up.
The only thing that a civil society needs less than the rule of law utterly ignored is the rule of law unfairly and overenthusiastically applied. That’s a seesaw that balances anarchy and dictatorship at either end. While Minister Sandy is listening to the very real concerns of the Director of Public Prosecutions about the tone and flavour of law enforcement as it has evolved during the State of Emergency, he would also do well to listen to some of the DPP’s prescriptions for better cases and more effective justice in the field. Some of DPP Gaspard’s suggestions have been bandied about in law enforcement circles for more than a decade now without ever finding a space to sustainably flourish. The much hoped for co-operation between law enforcement agencies that was touted as the reason for the Special Anti-Crime Unit’s (Sautt) existence never came to be because that agency never formally existed under the law.
The surprising lack of information about gang dynamics and group criminal behaviour and the apparent absence of a database listing and correlating gangs and known affiliates is in unfortunate harmony with the conspicuous lack of a unit devoted by the police to more effective engagement with gangs. How is it possible that the Police Service, well aware that its clearest target was the growing organisational capabilities of street gangs, and knowing that legislation empowering action against these groupings of criminal capacity was in the legal pipeline, managed to have no formal unit capable of acting on this new aggregation of laws when they were written into the nation’s law books?
Much that was promised for local law enforcement remains, if the evidence of DPP Gaspard’s readings of the casework of officers during the SoE is to be our guidance, in the realm of wishful thinking, projects still awaiting effective implementation. This slapdash showing of law enforcement must gall and embarrass the Minister of National Security as much as it discomfits citizens who expect more from officers of the law.
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