Legislation to be laid to confer police powers on military officers
Cabinet today approved and confirmed a Note brought by the Honourable Attorney General to clothe specially selected members of the Defence Force with the legal authority to function and perform the duties of police officers. The intention is to assist the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) in operations for maintaining and securing public safety and public order.
At present, members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) enjoy no powers of arrest other than those possessed by ordinary citizens. Consequently, law enforcement agencies are faced with a number of challenges when utilizing the assistance of members of the TTDF. An urgent need therefore arises to formalize through legislation the role and functions of members of the TTDF when rendering aid to the TTPS, and where necessary create the legal framework required to enable members of the TTDF to provide comprehensive assistance to the TTPS.
The proposed Bill will give legal protection to Defence Force personnel when they accompany police officers to assist in the detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. They will enjoy the same rights, privileges and immunities as police officers. They will have the same powers as police officers, including power to arrest, search, seize and to carry arms.
The use of the Army in the fight against crime is not new as soldiers have been accompanying police officers on raid and joint patrols during the last decade. Under the previous Administration, soldiers were also drafted into SAUTT to assist the police in the detection and investigation of serious crimes. This legislative measure will augment and increase the capacity of the Police Service and house such an initiative in a proper legislative footing. It can lead to an immediate boost and increase in the strength of the TTPS. It would also provide comfort and relief to members of the TTDF who have been involved in the fight against crime by ensuring that they are adequately protected in the performance of their duties. The TTDF will, no doubt, exercise these additional powers with the discipline, maturity and responsibility that has thus far characterised their involvement in the fight against crime by way of assisting and complementing the TTPS.
In furtherance of this crime initiative the Government will ensure that Defence Force personnel would be trained in areas such as police practice and procedure, investigations, law and court process to ensure that they are properly equipped to undertake their duties along side police officers.
The Government wishes to ensure that whilst members of the TTDF are to be placed on an equal legal footing and benefit from the same powers that police officers enjoy while actually engaging in operations with the police, they will not be permitted to embark on policing exercises on their own. In so doing members of the TTDF would be afforded the necessary protection in carrying out functions with the TTPS.
In this regard Cabinet has agreed that draft legislation be laid in Parliament this Friday.
MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
February 28 2013