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People’s lives now at stake
Commissioner of Prisons Williams Alexander will be actively engaging in talks with acting Commissioner Stephen Williams on the issue of arming off-duty prisons officers.
He made the comment yesterday following the funeral for slain prison officer Richard Sandy at the St Barnabas Anglican Church, Pleasantville.
There have been increased calls by Prisons Officers Association president Ceron Richards for arming off-duty officers in the wake of Sandy’s murder last weekend.
Yesterday, however, Alexander admitted this decision was up to Williams. He said they have had support from Williams in the past on the issue, but said the prison service also has the power to issue firearms based on officers’ circumstances.
In light of the recent attacks on officers, Alexander said this policy has been stepped up but only for on duty officers. Cases involving arming off-duty officers were increasing but were still being determined by him, he said.
Asked whether more off-duty officers were now being given guns with the increasing attacks on officers, Alexander said, “We don’t want the criminal elements to know everything we do, but there is a concerted effort to protect my officers. The lawless people must understand we will not sit idly by and allow our officers to be killed.”
On whether it would not be a deterrent if criminals knew officers were armed, he said, “That is one argument, but you see the bravado of these people. You saw what happened to Dana Seetahal, you saw what happened to many high-profile persons in this country.”
He said crime had climbed to another level and they will respond accordingly.
POA president Richards has also called for the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which will allow officers to carry concealed firearms to protect themselves. He said although Firearm Users Licenses have been issued to prison officers by the police commissioner, it was just a few hundred of the 2000-plus prison service.
Also asked about the issue yesterday, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said if discussions between the police and prison services call for legislative action to protect law enforcement officers it will be done. On the talks of firearm licenses for off-duty prison officers between Alexander and Williams, Dillon said: “That is a conversation that is taking place and continues to take place between the Commissioner of Prisons and the Commissioner of Police and if it is, based on the recommendations, if legislation is required, then it will be done.”
He said he also promised to meet with the POA and the Fire Service Association to treat with outstanding issues.
The issue of protection for officers also came up during Sandy’s funeral service. In eulogising his younger brother, Ricardo Sandy said it was time those in authority stopped playing with people’s lives. He said it is not an issue about right or wrong, but that action needs to be taken to prevent more families from facing the harsh reality of a violent T&T.
Addressing Dillon and members of the T&T Prison Service directly, Ricardo said, “You all are playing with an issue that people’s lives are involved in and their families. I am hurting because Richard was real, as real as they come.”
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