It is a slap in the face of our military, which virtually saved our democracy in 1990 based on their professionalism and dedication to duty and now we see individuals attempting to slander this same Defence Force with ridiculous comments that they would abuse their power if given powers of arrest.
What is unfortunate is that unlike other institutions in every arm of our country, including the protective services, the serving military do not have a union or a direct voice to state that the accusations and negative comments to question their professionalism are totally unfounded, so instead of asking for the views of our own military, which they cannot provide in public, we instead see different groups and individuals putting in their “two cents” to question the competence and training of these soldiers, with most of these detractors having absolutely no knowledge of the type of training that makes our soldiers one of the most noble of all professions, as they are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect their country and citizens who may be strangers to them.
Being a military officer involves intense training in all aspects of leadership, so it is a blatant disrespect when politicians can say that a government or politicians can abuse this policy, as if a soldier is a robot and would act to any command that he/she is given, and this shows blatant disrespect to the trust and loyalty these Defence Force personnel have to our laws and our country.
The Defence Force has specific conditions, just like the Police Service, that prevents abuse of authority by any politician and they indeed can reject certain instructions if it is deemed as an unlawful command in contrast to good order and military discipline, so the unfounded statement by some that issuing soldiers with powers of arrest would lead to abuse by any government official is undermining the training and competence of the military.
Additionally, we cannot treat our soldiers as if they are household pets, by bringing them into the streets to “perform” and throw them back in their cage when not needed, but also, whilst out, have them on a leash with virtual no powers to perform their duties, and then say the most negative thing about their competence by those who do not know better and not have any care or concern about what they think, nor the fact that whilst they perform their duties in the streets, if anything happens to them whilst trying to protect us and a conflict arises between them and a criminal, the same law could very well charge them because they had no powers of arrest.
There is a saying that one cannot be half pregnant.
It is either we want the Defence Force to support the police in providing the deterrent and enhance the manpower strength in the streets to reduce crime, or we do not, so we cannot be sending mixed messages, by first sending soldiers out to patrol the streets, carrying a firearm, and no one has voiced their concern on this, but in the same breath, we condemn the same soldiers to have a “get out of jail free card” and have the teeth and authority to do their job, in conducting these same patrols by having powers of arrest.
The points raised regarding these concerns are not logical, and it commences by statements that the role and function of a soldier is to solely protect our nation from foreign invasion and to protect us during natural disasters.
Contrary to that statement, the role and function of the Defence Force far exceeds these points and it includes acting as an aid to civil power, which also encompasses the aspect of them acting as a “support” element to the police in this function, as enshrined in the Defence Act in the laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Defence Force in fact also acts as a provider to ensure safety, and maintain democracy in times of peace and can implement this task by being that mandatory deterrent needed to prevent others from infringing on the safety and security of law abiding citizens, with an example of this being our same soldiers, who were tasked to provide peacekeeping duties, because apart from just killing, they are also so trained and were part of the United Nation Peacekeeping Forces in Haiti, and they went there not to kill but to defend.
The wide concern by some is even more alarming, as there are thousands of civilians in the private security industry who have the power of arrest, and not once have we ever heard from those voicing their concern for soldiers to get the exact authority, with the only difference being that soldiers are more trained than private security guards, and receive such training on a more frequent basis than civilians who are private security guards, who carry a firearm, provide patrol duties and have powers of arrest, as these private security officers are not mandated to take part in annual training for carrying a firearm.
Furthermore, the concern for soldiers to have such powers is hence thrown out the window, as the exact training that is provided for civilians to become security officers in the private security industry, and what authorises these same private security guards to have powers of arrest, is the exact training that the soldiers would be receiving prior to having powers of arrest, so the theory that soldiers are not being trained then becomes irrelevant.
But in the meantime the citizens require some measure of manpower strength in the streets and this can only be fulfilled by the army complimenting and supporting the police and they cannot and should not be doing so unless they have such powers of arrest which equates with what private security guards presently have, and they should be provided with this if we are asking them to stick their necks out and patrol the street.
Obviously, any new measure such as this needs proper planning to ensure it is not abused by those given such authority, and it is impossible to state that a soldier or two may not in fact do so, as many a police officer has done from time to time. So what is needed is to put the necessary oversight, deterrents and mechanisms in place to minimise this risk, but not to leave our soldiers patrolling the streets and given the powers of arrest equivalent to a citizen.
However, whilst this is being done, there is nothing wrong with people asking to be cautious and to put the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure that such a policy acquires positive results, but what is totally unacceptable is for people to try to politicise the military and try to belittle them by making ridiculous comments, as if our army comprises a group of headless chickens and cutthroats just waiting to abuse their authority and be let loose on the same country they have saved from tyranny time and time again.