Griffith: Police not authorised to check teacher absenteeism

In­ves­ti­ga­tions are be­ing car­ried out to as­cer­tain if po­lice of­fi­cers act­ed out­side their pre­scribed scope of du­ties af­ter it was al­leged cer­tain peo­ple en­tered schools on Sep­tem­ber 7 to gath­er in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing teach­ers who were ab­sent.

Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith has promised that any­one found to be cul­pa­ble will be held to ac­count.

Sep­tem­ber 7 was des­ig­nat­ed a day of Rest and Re­flec­tion by the Oil­fields Work­ers’ Trade Union (OW­TU) in re­sponse to the an­nounce­ment that the Petrotrin re­fin­ery was be­ing shut down.

The call for sol­i­dar­i­ty re­sult­ed in oth­er unions ad­vis­ing mem­bers to stay away from work on that day.

Among them was the Joint Trade Union Move­ment (JTUM); the Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Trade Unions and Non-Gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions (FI­TUN); the Na­tion­al Trade Union Cen­tre of T&T (NATUC); the Sea­men and Wa­ter­front Work­ers Trade Union (SWW­TU); and the Trinidad and To­ba­go Uni­fied Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (TTUTA).

Grif­fith as­sured: “The T&T Po­lice Ser­vice does not take sides on any mat­ter ex­cept if some­one is in­volved in break­ing the law.”

He said this would per­tain to all mat­ters—be it State or in­volv­ing the trade union move­ment.

Re­spond­ing to what he claimed was se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions by TTUTA af­ter they is­sued a re­lease claim­ing of­fi­cers had en­tered schools to gath­er da­ta, Grif­fith said, “At no time did any se­nior of­fi­cer of the TTPS from the Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice go down, ever give any such di­rec­tion.”

How­ev­er, he ad­mit­ted, “There is al­ways a pos­si­bil­i­ty that in­di­vid­u­als in the TTPS may de­cide to com­mit ac­tions out­side of the au­thor­i­ty and out­side the di­rec­tion of se­nior of­fi­cers.”

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, Grif­fith said checks at all po­lice sta­tions did not turn up any re­port that of­fi­cers had act­ed in an “ir­re­spon­si­ble or il­le­gal man­ner as stat­ed by TTUTA.”

Fol­low­ing a re­lease by TTUTA dur­ing which they pro­vid­ed the names, reg­i­men­tal num­bers and the reg­is­tra­tion num­bers of some of the marked po­lice ve­hi­cles that would have gone on­to school com­pounds - Grif­fith said he could now act on the in­for­ma­tion.

He said, “What I am do­ing now is to have these of­fi­cers ques­tioned and the mat­ters in­ves­ti­gat­ed to ver­i­fy if these re­ports by TTUTA are true or not, and if it is, these of­fi­cers will be­come cul­pa­ble and dis­ci­plined ac­cord­ing­ly.”

Grif­fith said the TTPS was asked to pro­vide ad­di­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty at all schools on Sep­tem­ber 7, giv­en the fact that not all teach­ers might have been present to en­sure the safe­ty and se­cu­ri­ty of the chil­dren in their care.

He said it was in this con­text that po­lice of­fi­cers were as­signed out­side schools.

He added, “At no time, re­gard­less of what, did the po­lice have the au­tho­ri­sa­tion to go and take a roll call to ver­i­fy which teach­ers were ab­sent.”

“That has noth­ing to do with the TTPS and if it was done by any po­lice of­fi­cer, it would not have been un­der the au­thor­i­ty of any se­nior of­fi­cer and they would have done that on their own.”

If the in­for­ma­tion is found to be true, Grif­fith said it would con­sti­tute a very se­ri­ous breach by of­fi­cers.

How­ev­er, he could not speak to the ex­tent of the dis­ci­pli­nary pro­ceed­ings that of­fi­cers would face as he said de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tions had to take place first.

Mean­while, pres­i­dent of TTUTA Lyns­ley Doo­d­hai con­firmed dis­cus­sions had been held with Grif­fith on the mat­ter.

Asked if any ac­tion had been brought against teach­ers since Sep­tem­ber 7, Doo­d­hai said no.

He said teach­ers were en­ti­tled to days-off as en­shrined un­der the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, and they were sim­ply ex­er­cis­ing this right.

Un­will­ing to rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an­oth­er day of rest and re­flec­tion on the cal­en­dar in months or years to come, Doo­d­hai said, “I hope that go­ing for­ward, there will not be such an oc­cur­rence again.”

- by Anna Lisa Paul

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