Wednesday 4th October, 2006

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Police need redemption

It must come as very depressing news for the Police High Command that two hardened criminals could escape from custody eight days ago shortly after making appearances in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court.

The fugitives, Damion Griffith and Richard Griffith, are described as being high-risk as, between them, they face 63 charges including kidnapping, robbery and possession of arms, ammunition and drugs.

If the escape of the two prisoners from the San Fernando courthouse must have depressed T&T’s top police officers, Sunday’s escape of a 35-year-old murder suspect from the Port-of-Spain General Hospital must have thrown each and every member of the entire police service into severe paroxyms of embarrassment.

While it may be unfair to indict the over 7,000 hardworking and honest men and women who comprise the T&T Police Service for the utter slackness of a few officers, it is clear in these two cases that the actions of the few have the potential to bring the whole into disrepute.

For it can only be a disreputable and dysfunctional police service which allows three hardened criminals to escape from its clutches in such relatively pedestrian ways.

These were not criminal masterminds—planning and executing their escapes after months of secretly sawing at the jailhouse bars or digging their way out of prison with sharpened chess pieces.

These fugitives were not the fabled escape artists of Hollywood lore—Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz, Papillon’s Dustin Hoffman or Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption—using patience and craftiness to outwit their captors.

Our local escape artists have no need for ingenuity or patience when they are presented with glaring opportunities to abscond as a result of security which is so disgracefully lackadaisical and mindless.

How else to describe a murder suspect, assumed to be under police guard at the hospital, who manages to pick the lock on his handcuff, slip his guards and jump through an open window?

And how else to describe the two prisoners in the San Fernando court who gracefully allow more than 60 prisoners to be loaded onto the prison vans before them, while they turn around and walk back into the court from which they came.

This is not the first time that prisoners have attempted to escape from the San Fernando courts or the general hospital.

Newspapers have reported time and time again the violence and disorder that often prevail at the San Fernando courts and there have been many lawyers, government ministers and even Chief Justices who have lamented the poor state of conditions, including security, at the courts.

But has anything changed?

While it is true that the problem is obviously larger than the police service, it is equally true that the guarding of prisoners on remand and in hospital is a job for the police.

As long as they roam the land as free men, these fugitives will continue to be a blot on the already sullied reputation of the local police. This is because there will be those who will think, and who will be justified in their thoughts, that if our police cannot prevent criminals from escaping in such “soft” circumstances, then what hope is there for the common man to report a robbery or a rape or a murder.

Save the excuses about the service being understaffed.

Police, redeem thyself.





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