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