Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Not Condemning: Of sirens, blue lights, uniforms, abuse and an information-starved society

Not Condemning: Of sirens, blue lights, uniforms, abuse and an information-starved society

Monday 19 March, 3:54pm. Charlotte Street. The shrill wail of a siren assails shoppers, motorists and pedestrians as a lone Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force vehicle bores a hole through the thick traffic, forcing drivers to hastily squeeze to the far edges of the road, making room where there is none.

I have experience of questionable use of the siren by politicians, both newbies and veterans alike. I have experience of police drivers going for doubles, siren on full blast. I have experience of Fire Service officers with civilians in their vehicles clearing a path with their sirens.

Photo: A police vehicle equipped with flashing lights and siren.

But this is my first experience of a vehicle with a TTDF license plate being driven in this manner. I had always thought that the TTDF did not engage in such shenanigans. The scales have finally been removed from my eyes.

Is this chaos desirable, I wonder, inevitable? How are drivers supposed to respond, especially in standstill traffic where there is really no room for them to make way?

How does a citizen know that the use of a siren is legitimate, justified? Where can (s)he find a listing of the conditions under which sirens are to be used? Does one exist? Is it merely at the discretion of the proud politician in the back seat or the peewat policeman, fireman or soldier who happens to be behind the wheel, uniformed or not?

If no such listing exists, are we not allowing—not to say encouraging—the blatant abuse now almost routinely visited on the road-using public?

I remain unconvinced that Monday’s Charlotte Street episode was necessary, legitimate or above suspicion. Well aware of the systemic necessity of what was happening across town at NAPA, as I viewed the tangle left in the wake of the siren-blaring TTDF vehicle, I found myself focused instead on the widespread systemic collapse we in T&T are experiencing.

Most—if not all—of our problems, have their roots, I heard myself thinking, either in the absence of appropriate systems, processes and procedures or in the shocking uncensored disregard for the ones that do in fact exist.

Photo: Newly sworn-in President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) is applauded by Prime Minister Keith Rowley (centre) as Chief Justice Ivor Archie looks on.

In general, citizens will follow where their leaders lead, will pattern their behaviour after the behaviour of their leaders. In Trinidad and Tobago, it appears, those in charge are blissfully unaware of the concept of leadership by example; they seem completely incapable of providing the good examples that our citizens desperately need.

It must be clear to all and sundry that, if the people you lead see you taking advantage of your position to enjoy some benefits, it becomes easier for the (wo)man-in-the-street to rationalise his own indiscretions, to decide that, in comparison to what the big boys are getting away with, what (s)he does is small potatoes, “small ting” and, therefore, okay.

And so we have the upward spiral, which sees the once minor indiscretions working their way consistently towards the top. And the instances of inappropriate behaviour are exacerbated by the absence of consequences; people are so convinced that nothing will come of any of their indiscretions that bandits no longer feel the need to conceal their features by wearing masks.

Even if we can’t arrest the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes we see ritually reported in the media, we might at least attempt to arrest the negative trends. The bandits, after all, are in the minority—still!—and the majority of the population is as hungry for positive change as we are for honest, decent governance in all spheres.

The dissemination of vital information is a good place to start and our leaders would do well to level the playing field and let us all know the rules of the game.

Photo: Minister of Communications and Public Administration Maxie Cuffie, about whose health challenges Government has not been very forthcoming with information.
(Courtesy Ministry of Communications)

So, I think I can safely say, on behalf of the road-using public that we will all welcome some clear guidelines about the use of sirens, whether they be on black official SUVs or TTDF vehicles or Fire Service appliances or police cars, marked or unmarked.

Not condemning, just commenting.

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a Communication Strategist, Political Commentator and Event Planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing Business Communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise holds an MBA, a B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and a certificate Mass Communications from UWI.

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  1. Only the Defence Force ambulances has a siren.

  2. To go in the shop when there is too much traffic
    All That nonsense had stop when Gary Griffith was minister of national security

  3. One of the stories I heard many times as a boy is very applicable in this case.It is called,”The boy who cried wolf.”

  4. No kook great article on the abuse of power however small it may be. It’s still abuse. And we the ordinary citizens have to be paying an ultimate price for the security insensitivity. What next?? .

  5. TTPS is notorious for abuse of power when it comes to those sirens, geezzz…and let’s not start with the blinding 1000watt blue lights..

  6. Well written piece….there was a time when, in our MV act, that clearly designated what vehicle was allowed to use a siren…..an ambulance and a fire tender on its way to an emergency…..( feel free to confirm) however, i think under the last dispensation, the law was amended to allow police vehicles and TTDF to use sirens…

  7. Can we also talk about the use of the blue lights at night, when they’re just cruising? It’s very difficult to see the road when they’re on in front of you….

  8. I remember Gary Griffith trying to implement some type of repercussions when he was National Sec. Minister. Didn’t quite catch on it seems.

  9. Abuse of power and noise pollution…so that in a legit emergency NO one is willing to give way

  10. In some other countries the police vehicles automatically log all siren use and the officers have to account for it at the end of the day.

    • That would work very well. Although then you have to consider who they will be accounting to here. That would probably be the problem.
      But it’s a start if every time they put on the siren, there was data running somewhere.

  11. This happens daily , several times a day ,TTPS just slaps on those sirens and forces their way through traffic …..and we’re expected to comply and oblige …abuse of power indeed !!

    • Earl Best

      I think you people are missing an important point. Police vehicles are not emergency vehicles in the same sense in which ambulances and fire tenders are but that does not mean that we can afford to have them tied up in traffic jams. Who is to say when a call will come through to the station which requires that a police officer or a police team be dispatched forthwith to somebody’s house or somebody’s business place?
      How many stories have we heard about people being told that the police cannot help them because they have no vehicle available? Every time we refuse to move aside and let the police pass we increase the likelihood or some citizen getting that answer? Are we really prepared to take the chance that the person making the call is one of our loved ones?

      Even if, I have to add, we think the police vehicle is not AT THE MOMENT on its way to an emergency?

    • You should see them Monday to Friday in rush hour traffic as they traverse the shoulder on the Beetham. Unmarked vehicles with blue lights and siren, along with marked police and customs vehicles along with the occasional TTDF vehicles.

  12. I never even realized that police vehicles in other countries do not routinely have their lights on. My nephew had an incident in the states where the policeman who pulled him over said. “Why didn’t you pull over? Didn’t you see my lights?” And when he told that policemen…well in Trinidad police always have their lights on, the officer actually said.. Yes..I’ve heard that before

  13. I am always frustrated by the permanent use of lights on police vehicles -often briefly impairing your vision at night. A police car should be nothing more than equivalent to a private vehicle. The only time lights and sirens should be used is when responding to an incident. Police vehicles are also supposed to abide by the same traffic laws as every other motorist unless responding to an incident. There have been many cases of police drivers across the world imprisoned for dangerous driving etc. As a police driver, your standards are supposed to be higher. You are supposed to set examples. Dropping your wife off or collecting your kids from school may possibly be accepted. But not when you use your lights and sirens and park illegally.