Call Me “Uncle Gary”

It’s easy to spot Trinidad and Tobago’s Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, in a crowd, and it’s not because of his security detail. Since his appointment in August 2018, Commissioner Griffith, much like a local celebrity, stops for selfies with his supporters everywhere he goes.

“I didn’t expect it to be such a significant part of the job,” he says. Although it’s rare to see someone in his position be as accessible as he is, it’s also a point of pride for him. “I’ve never felt I had to refuse someone. The selfies have become one of my obligations.”

Fine by him, since he vows to remain humble. “I won’t be Commissioner forever,” he says candidly. True as that may be, Commissioner Griffith will probably forever be known as Uncle Gary, Double G, or even Super G, as he’s often affectionately called. Each new nickname is a distant departure from the formality of almost two decades in the military.

With childhood heroes like Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Top Gun’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Griffith was destined for leadership.

He first developed his strong sense of discipline during the years he spent at St. Mary’s College. He jokes, “I never knew priests could beat so much!” His misdemeanour of choice? Talking during class. He was a popular student and an active athlete, with interests in hockey and football. In fact, as photographers traipse through his home during our interview, one asks if there’s a football nearby and Griffith replies, “Always!” Even in uniform, his personality shines through.

He’s a family man—photos of him, his wife Nicole Dyer Griffith, and their son Gary Griffith III add colour to the walls of the 100-year-old Commissioner’s residence. He’s an animal lover—daddy to four rottweilers, one feisty pompek (who he declares is the real head of the household), and an impressive saltwater fish tank of Nemo lookalikes.

He remembers a strange but enlightening encounter at a church service he attended with his aunt, Pastor Margaret Lee, a few years ago. There, he met a woman who told him that his role then was merely a stepping stone to something far more important to the country. At the time, Griffith was Minister of National Security, but this woman had no idea who he was. Perhaps she saw in him what most people see now: innate leadership skills and charisma.

What he brings to the force, despite never having served as a police officer, is not only relatability but hope. He’s clear about his role as a man of and for the people. “There’s this perception of police officers as arrogant or obnoxious, but what I try to instil is that we are servants. Employees of the citizens.” He wants people to see him not in a position of authority, but in one of support. “Every time there’s a homicide, I feel it. I accept responsibility and take it personally. My life is no longer mine.”

Every time there’s a homicide, I feel it. I accept responsibility and take it personally. My life is no longer mine.

While his supporters flock to him in public to snap selfies, Griffith says he is there—on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, in the crowds at a Buju Banton concert, and elsewhere under far more threatening circumstances—because he never puts his officers in positions he would not assume himself.

It’s not difficult to believe he really is as grounded as he says when he obsesses over criminal serial TV, like Blue Bloods, just as a civilian might. The series follows the life of NY Police Commissioner and patriarch of a multi-generational police family, Frank Reagan (played by Magnum, P.I.’s Tom Selleck). Griffith talks less about the series’ themes, which parallel many in his own life, and about its emphasis on family: “Every episode ends with the Commissioner’s family at a weekly dinner. He does his job but, at the end of the day, he comes home to his family.”

TV is certainly not the highlight of his day. That accolade is reserved for time spent with his wife and son and their family. He jokes that he, his son, and his father all share the same name because they are an unimaginative family. The truth, though, is that both father-son teams have been more like brothers. They share the same passions, like football (Griffith’s father was the lead forward for Queen’s Royal College’s football team in the 1950s), and challenges, like ADHD. About the latter, Griffith says he and his son are high-performing individuals who successfully channel their extra energy into things they love. For Griffith, that’s security and leadership. But for the youngest of the clan, it’s football, having just earned a spot on the T&T National U-17 team. Griffith remarks that he and his wife got exactly who they wanted in a son, even though he is, as Griffith says, “sixteen going on twenty-five.”

There may be only one Gary Griffith III, but thousands of other citizens see Commissioner Griffith as their own. They believe in his mission to restore hope and to unite the country so that they, too, can have weekly family dinners in peace. They’ve renamed him “Uncle Gary”, and he welcomes that designation because, “There’s no significance in the title. It’s all about who you are.”