File photo: National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.
Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds said that last year alone, 88 prison officers reported being threatened by inmates, as he piloted debate on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2022, which MPs later passed.
He said this legislation was not based on anyone’s whim and fancy but rather was necessitated by the unfortunate reality that prison officers now face regarding their safety, even as MPs later heard that since 1990, 26 prison officers were murdered.
Hinds said the bill allowed approved prison officers to carry firearms off-duty, plus officers of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) – as approved by the SSA director, while allowing municipal police officers to carry non-lethal weapons such as tasers.
He said the bill also vests power in the minister to extend the validity of existing FULs, saying crime was a most pervasive threat in TT.
Hinds justified the bill by citing a court ruling which said while prison officers should be protected while off-duty, that could not be done under the original parent act, but only by Parliament bringing the current bill.
He recalled the daylight murder of prison officer Nigel Jones, shot dead in Fyzabad in front of his young daughter who CCTV cameras caught running around in a blind panic.
Hinds said that incident had troubled Government. He said many “hits” on prison officers were ordered by jailed gang leaders, many upset at officers who oppose their jail rackets which annually net them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Cigarettes, marijuana and cellphones are the main contraband in jail, he said, with the latter being the worst contributor to illegal communications.
He urged the Opposition to support the bill to make firearms available to prison officers identified as being at a particular risk.
Later in the sitting, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, urged the matter not be treated as a blame game, as governments of all political shades had held office in the period 1990 to present, when 26 prison officers were murdered.
Armour said one cannot run a country by waving a magic wand, but must fix things incrementally. He said that while the bill lets the minister extend the validity of FULs, the power to issue the FULs remains with the Commissioner of Police under the original act.
Armour said that in association with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime Control, the Government would do “a deep dive” to do a comprehensive review of TT’s firearms legislation.