There are very few officers in Trinidad’s police system who could try to convince locals that a country-wide system of coordinated roadblocks the force sprung upon citizens during rush hour on Monday morning was not an act of spite or vindictiveness designed to pressure authorities to meet demands for increased salaries.
The roadblocks, manned clearly by police acting in slow motion, demanding to see documents of motorists, snarled traffic for miles, forcing the cancellation of dozens of international flights as crews, passengers and even catering trucks were left stranded in traffic.
Dozens of schools, commercial banks, and other public and private sector agencies were forced to close for the day as few employees and customers showed up for classes or work. And many hundreds of school students scheduled to write high school entrance exams were disappointed as these had to be postponed.
The unannounced and quite sudden roadblocks came amid stalled talks between the police association and authorities for an increase in salaries and allowances and although officials have said that the police action had much to do with attempts to stem runaway violent crime on the island, others were open about the real story behind the imposition.
There were similar scenes in the nearby sister isle of Tobago where flights were also disrupted and normal commercial activities put on hold for the entire day.
The outrage from Monday has forced both a formal, full-fledged investigation into the flare up as well as a vow from the security ministry that such would never be allowed to happen again, that happy or angry officers would not ever be permitted to hold a nation to ransom in the future.
Retired Brig. Gen. and Minister Carl Alfonso apologized to the nation in the senate or upper house.
Government supporters linked Monday’s action to attempts to undermine the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ahead of general elections expected at any moment.
“On behalf of the prime minister, members of the government and indeed the agencies charged with the protection and safety of our citizens, I give the undertaking that yesterday’s police exercise will not be repeated. And if ever there is the need for such comprehensive and widespread policing activities, the frustration, anger and anxiety caused for thousands of people yesterday will not happen again” he said.
Many in stalled vehicles like epileptics seeking medical attention also suffered at the hands of police who motorists said acted as though they were on an industrial go slow, exacerbating the problem.
The result of Monday’s unofficial industrial action by police has triggered a series of measures aimed at preventing a repeat.
The power to mount road blocks would now lie only in the hands of divisional commanders and officers with higher responsibilities.
Minister Alfonso himself, the prime minister, as well as acting Police Chief Ann Marie Alleyne-Daly say they were all unaware of the plan by police to mount the road blocks in the wake of normal but not unusual criminal activities.
“We must not allow ourselves to believe that because we are at war with criminals, the people must be subjected to such undue inconvenience and frustration. We must not allow ourselves to believe that because drastic action must at times be taken, the law-abiding and innocent must bear the brunt of strenuous police exercises. Yes, there are times we must all bear some burden, but as government, our intention is to ensure that whatever burdens there are, they will be carried by those who break the law, put lives at risk and seek to lead lives of crime and illicit activity,” he said in the senate.