SPECIAL BRANCH POLICE GET SHAKE UP
The T&T Police Service (TTPS) has made a major shake-up in its operation this week, with acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams removing Special Branch head ACP Ainsley Garrick and his deputy Snr Supt Austin Lee.
The T&T Guardian understands that Garrick was sent on vacation leave while Lee was transferred to the South Western Division, where he was expected to take over from Snr Supt Inraj Balram.
A senior Government official said the changes are coming after issues were raised over the Special Branch's counter-terrorism efforts at a recent National Security Council (NSC) meeting. The official said the decision may have been made in anticipation of Monday’s NSC meeting. However, sources within the TTPS said they believe the changes may be political influenced.
Last January, the Ministry of National Security confirmed it was working closely with the United States, Britain and Canada on intelligence and information sharing on people who were found to be associated with any terrorist group, whether locally or internationally.
Several calls made to acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams between Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful as he did not return them nor did he respond to voice messages.
Also contacted on the issue, TTPS Corporate Communications Manager Ellen Lewis did not share any information on why Garrick and Lee were removed and where they were reassigned. However, she did say that all manpower placements were normal practice and done at the discretion of Williams.
“The assignment, reassignment or transfer of any officer occurs from time to time is an administrative practice within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. It is the prerogative of the Commissioner of Police to assign officers under his command as he deems appropriate to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the management of the organisation,” Lewis said.
But secretary of the T&T Police Social Welfare Association, acting ASP Anand Ramesar, said from their point of view the changes seem unusual.
“You don’t normally see a transfer like this taking place in relation to a department like the Special Branch. However, it is sometimes good to note that the days of the sacred cows, where people feel they can’t get transferred because of where they work, is slowly eroding," Ramesar said.
Responsibilities for the Special Branch include intelligence gathering and processing, conducting information into the activities of foreigners entering the country and providing security to the Prime Minister, President and other dignitaries.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom updated its travel advisory to T&T, warning its citizens of possible acts of terrorism occurring in the country. They stated that although there were no recent attacks, more than 100 T&T nationals had travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight along with Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) and are likely to pose a security threat on return to T&T. They also stated that there was also a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh and al Qaeda, to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places.
Last year, CoP Williams described the Special Branch as the “most elite VIP Protection Unit” in T&T.
However, following the appearance of "community leader" Cedric “Burkie” Burke at President's House for the swearing-in of Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene McDonald as Public Utilities Minister on June 30, President Anthony Carmona ordered an internal investigation into whether there was a breach of security and protocols. Carmona had requested a report from the Special Branch officers on duty, especially as Burke was not on the list of invited guest