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The Police Headquarters

Published: 
Saturday, June 10, 2017
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The constabulary in the early 1900s.

In many First World nations, institutions, in order to foster closer ties with the wider community and especially schools, set aside spaces within their structures that contain the history of the institution and uniforms, firearms, swords, methods of transport and very often juicy tidbits of major events. The Police Headquarters and its personnel have a wonderful opportunity to preserve its long and glorious history in a space devoted to the construction of dioramas of the past to the present day. How many of us remember the British cork hats and the lengthy woollen socks. What about a pictorial display of the 1990 coup. What about it, Mr Commissioner? —Rudolph Bissessarsingh

 

Angelo Bissessarsingh First published on June 5, 2016 The headquarters of the T&T Police Service is one of the most imposing buildings in the capital. Located on St Vincent Street, it became a permanent home for the Trinidad Constabulary (forerunner of the TTPS).

The original constabulary was in a rented building on Frederick Street, but during the tenure of Sir Henry Turner Irving, funds were allocated for a grand new edifice. Constructed in 1876, it originally accommodated a police court, residence of the inspector general of the Trinidad Constabulary (precursor to the Commissioner of Police), the Volunteer Fire Brigade (until that body moved to its own headquarters in 1895), and a parade ground.

A detailed description of the facility in 1888 is as follows:

“A lofty, substantial edifice, built in the Italian-Gothic style, of limestone, obtained from the Piccadilly (Laventille) quarries. It cost the immense sum of nearly £90,000, but it is one of the few really fine buildings in the town, and the massive clock-tower, with the large arched galleries above and below, serve to give it an imposing appearance.

“There is a residence attached for the head of the force, besides quarters for non-commissioned officers. The spacious, well-ventilated dormitories present a smart and orderly appearance, as do also the storerooms and kitchen, etc, clearly indicating a military supervision.

“The lofty recreation-room is furnished with newspapers, draughts, dominoes, etc, for the use of the men. The buildings form a hollow square, with an arched entrance-passage, leading to a large open quadrangle within, which is used as a parade-ground. When the Volunteer Corps was first started this was for a long time its headquarters, and it is only quite recently that it has migrated to the new Drill Hall in Tranquillity. The police vote for 1886 was £28,134.

“The armoury contains Snider rifles, revolvers, swords, all brightly burnished, and ready for immediate use, if need be. Here are also the headquarters of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, a voluntary institution, with a few paid firemen, who, of course, have to give the whole of their time. The engines, hose, and other appliances are well kept, always ready at a moment’s notice night or day, and have on more than one occasion proved of the greatest practical utility.

“Curiously enough, in 1882 this fine building, in spite of its being the fountain-head of the police and fire brigade systems, and although it was even then comparatively new, was completely gutted by a disastrous fire which broke out in the lamp-room. It was restored two years later at a cost of £15,452, with concrete floors for the upper galleries and court house, iron staircases, and fire-proof roof, rendering it much more substantial and less liable to destruction by fire than with the pitch-pine floors and staircases which the former building had.

“Mention has already been made of the well-trained band of the police. It is under the direction of Mr Rudolphsen (late Bandmaster of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst), and plays regularly on certain days at fixed places of public resort in the town. The courtesy of the authorities will doubtless allow you a peep at the photographic album of criminals, by which you will get a glimpse of a few of the rascals of Trinidad, though doubtless there are a good number whose physiognomies do not adorn this art collection.

“The view from the top of the tower opens out a delightful panorama; the ball on the flag-post is regulated to fall precisely at mid-day (Greenwich time). In this building the Stipendiary Magistrate of Port-of-Spain holds his daily court ; and here, until quite recently, was held the weekly Petty Civil Court. All these courts are obliged to have a good staff of interpreters. This is a natural consequence where the races of people are of such a mixed character. And, with regard to the oath, a Christian must be sworn upon the Testament; a Mahometan, upon a part of the Koran; a Hindu, over a vessel of clear water to remind him of his own precious Ganges.”

Perhaps the most recent memory of Police Headquarters is the gutting of the building by fire during the 1990 attempted coup. For years afterwards, the shell remained derelict until it was restored and once again has attained its former glory. Aside from its primary function as a police station, it also houses a museum of the Police Service which is well worth a visit.

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