Friday 15 November, 2019

Experts back Gary: It was human trafficking

A number of persons are now in protective custody following a police raid on a rehabilitation centre in Arouca a week ago where 69 people were found caged and chained.

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith at a briefing on Tuesday confirmed that these “patients” are being properly secured even as they are yet to be questioned by police.

Based on the nature of the information these individuals have provided to police, Commissioner Griffith said every effort is being made to assist those persons, who might prove crucial in providing the information needed to bring about prosecution.

He said this was especially important given that relatives would have been aware of the conditions under which their loved-ones were being kept at the Arouca facility, making them culpable.

With the help of US experts via video call, the Police Commissioner addressed criticism of his use of the term “human trafficking” regarding the discovery at the rehabilitation centre.

Retired FBI Special Agent Robert Clarke agreed that what took place was, in fact, human trafficking, and something international agencies like Interpol and Europol are dealing with.

“It’s extremely important to understand that what we have seen in Trinidad and Tobago these last couple of weeks is completely in line with what we’re seeing around the world globally.

In the United States, organisations that are on the front designed to offer resources and services are taking an advantage of children, of adults, of elderly because they are involved in an organised crime process of facilitating human trafficking.”

Clarke said this “appetite” was fueled by the internet and social media which have opened the doors to children being exploited.

He stressed that sensitisation on the matter could prevent future incidents of this kind.

“Because it’s a problem that hides in plain sight, a lot of things can be missed and that is why the education piece for all entities who will interface with this problem is extremely important.”

Meanwhile, Griffith stressed that human trafficking would no longer be trivialised as be there would be more operations of a similar nature to come. He also gave his commitment to ensuring that society’s defenceless are not taken advantage of.

“I intend to parang from house to house, every single institution that takes care of elderly, children and anyone who needs help. They need to get their act together.

I am fully aware that this is a situation that we have trivialised for decades. It will take some time for persons to understand, but we cannot trivialise a situation like this.”

The Commissioner said a number of new units have been brought on stream to treat with issues that have been previously overlooked.

“And that is why in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service you would have seen a number of new units being formed recently and being launched, such as the Gender-Based Violence Unit, Unit to Deal with School Security, Cruelty to Animals.”

“We are here to defend those who cannot defend themselves,” he stressed.

He offered advice to family members who may find themselves needing to place their relatives in a mental health facility or elderly care home. He urged them to visit and have a thorough investigation of the surroundings to ensure that their loved-ones are not being abused.

The Commissioner further indicated that a Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) investigation is underway to determine why the facility was not previously investigated, despite several reports being made prior to the eventual investigation which led to last Wednesday’s raid.

He said the PSB probe would determine whether the conduct of the officers “was based on possibly not good policing rather than police actually aiding and abetting and being involved in a situation like this”.

Also at the conference was Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations (Ag.) Jayson Forde who assured that the police are moving assiduously to charge all those culpable for the “heinous act”.

He said a team has been assigned to conduct the investigation and as soon as there is “enough” to share.

“By midnight tonight, we can charge all who are culpable. However, you would appreciate that we have an ongoing investigation … and a lot of moving parts and we want to get it right.”

He revealed that interviews have not been completed as some patients are still being medically examined.

“As they are examined and the police are given the green light, we will be interviewing persons. We have interviewed several persons, we have gathered a lot of evidence but the investigations continue and will investigate and we will question the people as we go forward,” Forde said.

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