“A thriving, well-oiled, white-collar criminal enterprise” in respect of the grant of firearm user’s licences (FULs) and other restricted licences was being conducted “under the nose” of then-commissioner of police Gary Griffith.
This is one of the conclusions of retired Appeal Court judge Stanley John, who was appointed by the former Bliss Seepersad-led Police Service Commission (PolSC) to enquire into allegations of corruption in the issuance of FULs.
The scathing report, which has been submitted to the PolSC and which the Sunday Express had sight of, details the goings-on within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) under the leadership of Griffith.
John also recommended a police probe into several matters raised during his investigation, “and the errant persons brought to justice and not be allowed to go free”.
John said, “My investigation leaves me with the firm view of the existence within the TTPS of a highly dysfunctional system for processing applications for FULs and other related licences/permits. The system is replete with opportunities for illegal, irregular and other corrupt practices. Clearly, the advantage taken of these opportunities has been widespread.
“Indeed, the then-commissioner has mentioned that he was aware of the significance of this problem by way of several reports made to him. His efforts to address it have clearly been woefully unsuccessful. His own explanation of his involvement in the process, in my opinion… was in breach of the law as set out in Section 16 of the Firearms Act. This has been a masterclass in dysfunctionalisation.”
Under the Firearms Act, it is the Commissioner of Police who grants approvals for FULs.
Questions about employee
John pointed to a refusal by a senior TTPS manager during his probe to answer questions about a particular TTPS employee “troubling”.
“Additionally, the refusal of (manager’s name called) to address questions referred to him (by John) concerning (name called) involvement in the operations of the Firearms Permit Section continues to be very troubling and ought not to be swept under the carpet. It should be noted that (name called) was hired by him, worked closely with him, and evidently had a significant part of play in the process leading up to the grant of FULs. It is highly unlikely that (employee ) could have played such a pivotal role without the knowledge and/or approval of (manager’s post stated),” John said.
John emphasised that a “very disturbing feature of this investigation was the unexplained role of (name called of employee) in relation to activities in the Firearms Permit Section”.
He said both the employee and (manager’s name called) have been unhelpful in explaining the employee’s role, and have adamantly refused to proffer any explanation to him for the numerous documents relating to FULs found at the employee’s residence, when a search warrant was executed last year. The documents included application forms for FULs in favour of several people, correspondence addressed to the commissioner from individuals and 19 applications in favour of several individuals.
The employee was on a two-year contract to the TTPS at a salary of $10,332 a month.
John said the employee declined to be interviewed and, as a result, he e-mailed the manager on October 18, 2021, seeking a response to the following questions:
• Was the contract of (name called) amended in any way?
• Did he (the manager) at any time assign the employee duties in the Firearms Section?
• Did he authorise the employee to remove documents relating to the issuance of FULs from the Police Administration Building and the Firearms Section?
• Can he advise the role to which (the employee) was assigned?
Serious flaws and corruption
In a withering conclusion, John said: “The commissioner has not performed the functions entrusted to him by law in relation to the issuance of firearm licences. To use his own language, he depended on the ‘integrity of the system’, a system which he admitted had serious flaws and opened itself to corruption.
“It does not appear that the commissioner satisfied himself that all applicants for firearms import permits, firearms user’s licences, firearm user’s (employee’s) certificates, and firearm dealer’s licences had good reasons for importing, purchasing, acquiring or having in their possession a firearm or ammunition without danger to the public safety or to the peace, or that there was any reason to believe those applicants were fit to be entrusted with a firearm or ammunition, in contravention of Section 17 (4) of the Firearms Act. Adherence to the provision of Section 17 (4) seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.
“I wish to state that notwithstanding commissioner Griffith’s philosophy that by issuing firearms to citizens, he was thereby genuinely reducing the opportunity for corruption, this investigation has found the contrary.”
John said it was his opinion that Griffith’s liberal policy had the potential to militarise sections of the society. “Such a policy as espoused by him (Griffith) has the potential, through inadvertence, to militarise sections of the society… There is no right to bear arms in our society. There is a right to apply for an FUL and if the applicant fulfils the legal requirements, then the commissioner, in the exercise of his discretion, may grant an FUL. The grant of a firearm is a privilege given to the citizen by the exercise of responsible discretion,” John said.
He added, “The law thus imposes a critical responsibility upon the CoP in the granting of licences to exercise a measured discretion of his judgment in assessing an application for an FUL and/or FDL.”
The report painted a worrying picture of the process used in granting FULs to members of the public, and noted that people who had pending matters for serious offences and convictions received FULs.
“On the basis of all the transcripts obtained, the interviews conducted, the documentary evidence made available to me and the unexplained role of (TTPS secretary’s name called), I find that:
• Requests for varying sums of money have been made of applicants by police officers attached to the Firearms Permit Section and senior officers in some divisions to assist in the issuance of firearms user’s licences.
• An absence of certificates of character and, in some instances, inaccurate information (was) recorded on such certificates.
• A failure in at least two cases to ensure that the applicants were at least 25 years of age—a requirement of Section 17 (2A) of the Firearms Act, which prescribes that ‘No licence, certificate or permit shall be granted to a person under the age of 25 years’.
• Persons convicted of criminal charges, others with criminal charges pending, and even named persons involved in questionable activities have been issued provisional licences… An applicant with initials DD, who was charged for trafficking in a very significant quantity of cocaine, was issued a provisional permit.
• There exists a practice of certain firearms dealers having access to the non-public areas of the Firearms Permit Section, and a particular firearm dealer having access to the vault.”
20 firearms in one year
John’s investigation also found that an applicant with the initials AN, who was extradited from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States for drug trafficking offences, applied for an FUL. “The application was recommended notwithstanding the absence of a certificate of character. There was however a note on the file to the effect that the Criminal Records Office was closed at the material time. That in itself was no reason for making a favourable recommendation,” John concluded.
Another applicant received 20 firearms in one year—16 were issued during Griffith’s term and four during the short period that (former) DCP (Irwin) Hackshaw acted as commissioner.
“In one case, a FUL was granted and in another, the provisions of the act were not complied with in relation to the grant of a dealership licence.
“Applications were being processed and approved in an inordinately short period of time, in comparison with earlier applications. In some instances, the process was completed on the same day that the application was made while others took months to be processed,” John said.
Griffith brought FUL under his charge
Prior to Griffith’s tenure, the Firearms Permit Section fell under an assistant commissioner of police (Administration). However, Griffith changed the structure and brought the section directly under his charge.
The report disclosed that during Griffith’s three-year tenure (between August 2018 and August 2021), a total of 4,030 provisional permits were granted, as well as seven firearms dealer’s licences and 6,832 firearm user’s licences. By contrast, in the ten-year period prior (2008-2017), a total of 285 provisional licences were granted, three firearm dealer’s licences and 3,812 firearm user’s licences.
Based on the statistics provided in the report, of the 6,832 FULs signed off by Griffith during his three-year period, 4,687 were granted in the final six months of his contract (between March and August, 2021); 2,937 out of the total 4,030 provisional permits issued during the three-year contract were issued in the last six months between March and August 2021.
“My investigation disclosed that during the tenure of commissioner Griffith, firearm user’s licences issued have shown a remarkable increase… the contents of which have been authenticated by the Forensic Science Centre,” John said.
John found that some citizens received FULs approved by Griffith where less than thorough investigations were carried out, and in some instances, no investigations at all, or by corrupt means employed by errant police officers.
“Moreover, files were being forwarded for signature and approval notwithstanding that the applicants had criminal antecedents… another disturbing trend observed was the issuance of an unfettered number of variations to applicants. The investigation has shown that some applicants were given permission to own an unwarranted number of firearms. On occasions, these variations, which are provided for in Section 20(1)(2) of the Firearms Act, were issued within days, and in some instances, the same day of the application for the variation, which gave the appearance of a circumvented or absent investigative process,” John said.
“The Firearms Act, Section 20, provides that the holder of a licence or certificate or permit may apply to the Commissioner for a variation of his licence. The investigation has come upon several instances where variations were granted by the commissioner for applicants to acquire two or more additional firearms. Such variations were granted simply on application, without any apparent due diligence having been carried out,” John said.
“Applicants were being issued variation licences allowing them to acquire 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition, rifles and carbine pistols, for ‘home protection’ and ‘training purposes’; these calibres of ammunition, more so 7.62mm, are primarily used in sport shooting.
“It has been confirmed to me both by ASP De Mattos and a former captain of the T&T Rifle Association that 5.56mm and 7.62mm cartridges are competition-grade ammunition. Such ammunition is imported by the association and purchased by sporting enthusiasts at the range. No one is allowed to leave the range with this type of ammunition,” he added.
Accordingly, John said, approval given to at least two individuals to purchase such ammunition is “highly irregular”.
Section 17 (4) of the Firearms Act
A firearm import permit, a firearm user’s licence or a firearm user employee’s certificate shall be granted by the Commissioner of Police only if he is satisfied that the applicant has a good reason for importing, purchasing, acquiring or having in his possession the firearm or ammunition in respect of which the application is made, and can be permitted to have in his possession that firearm or ammunition without danger to the public safety or to the peace; however, such a permit, certificate or licence shall not be granted to a person whom the Commissioner has reason to believe to be of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or to be for any reason unfit to be entrusted with such a firearm or ammunition.