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POA relieved for now

The trinidad Guardian / Prison officers who have already applied for their Firearm Users License will be given priority by the Police Service, while the Prisons Officers Association (POA) and the Government negotiate other legislative issues aimed at protecting prison officers both on and off duty.

This was one of the assurances given to the association during a marathon meeting with National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and acting Prisons Commissioner William Alexander yesterday.

Speaking afterwards, Al-Rawi said some of the issues discussed in the three-hour meeting at the National Security Ministry in Port-of-Spain will require legislative changes that may require constitutional reform. He said the parties agreed to meet again in two weeks to discuss some of the legislative proposals.

The AG said one of the proposals was the summary dismissal of prison officers found guilty of misconduct. But he said this is complicated as the Public Service Commission has power over the service and their mode of operation would need to be constitutionally altered. Any action to amend the Constitution, Al-Rawi added, would need at least a two thirds majority in the Parliament.

The T&T Guardian was told some of five legislative requests made by the POA were already in the drafting states by the AG’s office. The main one was the arming of prison officers, which will be now addressed as a top priority.

Regarding the investigation into the murders prison officers Glenford Gardner and Roger Sandy, which sparked the calls for legislative action to protect officers from the POA, Al-Rawi said the National Security Council was aware of some of the people responsible for the attacks. He said the Police Service was also not slouching and already had “persons on their radar” and trying to apprehend the killers through nationwide manhunts.

Al-Rawi added: “There will be no feeding of any narrative to instil fear in the country. This is a risky job, these are front line officers doing work that many will not. The message we want to send is we know who the individuals are in two of these matters and we have a very good idea and a near certainty on the third. I want to send a message out to those people, yuh days are numbered.”

Also speaking after the meeting, POA president Ceron Richards said they had a “renewed spirit” coming out of the discussions. Asked if the officers would continue to seek asylum in Canada, he said it was too soon to say but would depend on the commitment by the Government to support the officers in their fight against the criminal elements.

Al-Rawi interjected, adding that the officers will not be going anywhere given the assurances that were given to them in the meeting and what may come out of future meetings.

Acting Prisons Commissioner William Alexander meanwhile said the decision to deny visitation today to facilitate officers attending Gardner’s funeral was not a sign of protest. He said relatives of prisoners can purchase items at the prison canteen and they will be delivered to the inmates, but relatives will not be able to see them.

Alexander added that one of the things discussed in the meeting was establishing a fund for the relatives of murdered prison officers, adding officers should be celebrated not killed for the work they do in reforming some of the criminals in the country. As he said so, POA members in the room clapped loudly in agreement.

Yesterday’s meeting came one day after a joint media briefing with Williams and Alexander. At that press conference Alexander said whatever was needed to safeguard his officers was welcomed.

But Al-Rawi has maintained that issuing guns to all off-duty prisons officers is not the answer, a position he reiterated hours before the meeting at a press conference he hosted at his office. And although there was a promise to fast track the license applications for prison officers already in the system yesterday, it is still unlikely Government will agree to issuing weapons to all off duty officers.

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