Noble: Guarding the guards—“poor people [dying] to protect property from other poor people with guns”

This week, the shooting to death of the two security guards, Jeffrey Peters and Jerry Stewart, and the four bandits reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “The future depends on what we do in the present.” 

It is highly disingenuous to wring our hands and bemoan the state of our nation. We wrote the script. When we failed to do what should be done, what kind of life did we expect?

Photo: Allied Security officer Jeffrey Peters was murdered in a robbery outside Pennywise Plaza last week.

How many of us remember the name “Bert Clarke”? The 59-year-old security supervisor with Sentinel Security, who died on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in 2013? 

We have forgotten him at our peril and landed in this week’s bloodbath. Mr Clarke lost his life when the van in which he was travelling was rammed from behind by a Ford Ranger.

That loss was the largest in the cash-in-transit business: TT$17 Million! Police believed that military operatives were involved. Sentinel, a serial target yet a favourite of the banks, went out of business shortly afterwards. 

In that murder, 50 shells were discovered. That number is half of the count from this week. In the supreme understatement of 2014, Larry Nath, then president of the Bankers Association, said: “It is unfortunate, as it resulted in a loss of life, and I think it is a tragedy.”

Photo: Murdered Sentinel security guard Bert Clarke.

What may be said now?

What did we do to honour the life of Bert Clarke? In a nutshell, we carried on as though he represented collateral damage. The signs of wanton carelessness were always there.

President of the Estate Police Association Edison Munroe said then that his organisation had written to Sentinel several times and added: “This is not the first time this has happened… It has been going on for years.”

The private security industry hires three times the number of persons employed in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. 

Having outsourced security, we persistently ignore the financial interests and profits that are derived from the country’s environment of pervasive and protracted insecurity. Who benefits from our frustration?

Image: An Allied Security advertisement.

Has anyone compared the current expenditures for private security services with those for public law enforcement? Are we happy with this approach to our crime situation? Is this a case of money talks? Where is the source of the guards?

Poor people give their lives to protect property from other poor people, with guns on both sides supplied by those who make money off their labour. Has anyone observed how rogues are now part of our national security forces? How will we ever be safe?

Perversely, these murders—of the guards and bandits—will be good for the private security business. 

“[…] The experience of and the fear of crime and the attendant insecurity that it generates has led more and more persons, as we have come to understand in the last few days, to seek the support of the private security industry to improve and secure their personal safety and properties…”

Photo: Amalgamated Security director Dr Michael Aboud.

The industry leadership does not balance the business risk with the profit, so the front-line staff pays the costs. Customers and security companies combine to squeeze the guards. 

Our legislators are complicit. The protections afforded to other employees are absent in this industry. This industry’s 1995 Minimum Wage Order strips the employees of many fundamental rights. Disrespect is the name of the game.

Who works as a security guard? Compare this description by Mr Clarke’s daughter to those made this week:

“My father was the kindest man I know. God fearing, loving. A devoted husband and a dedicated father. He always worked hard and always provided for his children. He ensured that his family was not wanting for anything.

Photo: A security guard on the job.

“My father always said no one wanted to do security work because the pay was too small, but it was enough for him to raise his family and put his three children through school.”

Honest people are scraping to make ends meet. As recently as July 2022, Mr Deryck Richardson, the current head of the Estate Police Association, complained about “[…] this blatant injustice against workers that allow private companies to continue to abuse, take advantage of, victimise, discriminate against people who are bringing them their daily bread.”

But this is not news!

In 2013, Mr Edison Munroe of the Estate Police Association said: “some security companies (are) using ‘ancient’ equipment and vehicles which caused officers to be ‘easy targets’ for bandits. He also said officers should receive more intensive training. They are putting officers’ lives at serious risk…”

Who cares?

Photo: Allied Security officer Jerry Stewart was murdered in a robbery outside Pennywise Plaza last week.

Why do we allow two “security experts” to be interviewed to assert that the officers could not be saved with armoured vehicles? That narrative suits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor worker.

Are Amalgamated and GS 4 wasting money with their armoured vans? Should not the required level of protection be determined by the threat to crew members and cargo? 

These couriers are mobile—they do not sit on a compound. Should not all crew members be protected? Any of them may be subject to gunfire should they be forced to leave the vehicle due to an attack with incendiary or explosive devices. Have these experts declared their potential conflict of interest or expertise in this business speciality? 

There is talk about the use of the AR-15 weapon, but how many of the five bandits had such a weapon? We do not have the ballistic tests. Such premature public discussions are not helpful. Scaring the public gins up business, but do we genuinely care about the public?

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (right) and former SORT head Mark Hernandez.
Hernandez, who was charged for misbehaviour in office last year, was interviewed by the Trinidad Guardian on last week’s fatal heist as a “security expert”.
(Copyright Abraham Diaz / Trinidad Guardian)

In the early days, cash-in-transit vehicles had two compartments: passenger and cargo. Why were all three guards now in one cabin? Where have the automatic deadbolts—which were operable only from the inside—to stall the theft gone?

Could the pick-up take the weight of the cash collected and still be nimble? Is it that the cargo value has increased while the couriers’ protection has decreased? Criminality in the nation has increased, but we have systematically reduced the chances of withstanding an assault. Why?

Does anyone viewing the ambush footage believe that the guards were well-trained? Did the lack of standards in the industry and its profit maximisation drive enable the murder of the two hapless guards? Is it acceptable to insure the cash-in-transit but not consider the lives involved? 

Photo: A thug shows off his weapon.

Why are we talking about the security company covering the cost of the funerals? The cost of the funerals does not cover the cost of destroyed lives for the families. The aim must be to minimise the risk of injury and death. 

Are we serious about removing the temptation for crime? These security companies work around the clock transporting millions of dollars in crowded streets and shopping areas.

A review of the debate in Parliament over the years shows the comical approach to providing industry oversight. In 2019, they were discussing the importation of high-powered guns. They continued to fool around in 2020.

That whole bunch should be ashamed to talk about crime and its costs to the nation. Pettiness rules! In 2022, the process appears constipated. Some Parliamentarians seemingly do not care for the thousands employed in the security industry. 

Photo: MTS security guards have a light moment.

As King Austin sang: “I see a frightened humanity, a sad and confused society/ And it saddens me. How shall it be in time to come?/ Can this world withstand this constant misuse and abuse by the hands of man/ As they try to shape this world in a way to fit in with all their plans?”

Time to stand up! We are writing our future moment by moment! 

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