updated 1/19/2008 4:30:12 PM ET 2008-01-19T21:30:12

Trinidad's police officers are being yanked off the sports fields and put back on the crime-ridden streets as their chief scraps a policy of letting officers play in local leagues while on paid time.

The announcement late Friday was a blow to a police force that is known for recruiting talented athletes and fielding teams in national cricket, netball and rugby leagues.

Commissioner Paul Trevor said that hundreds of police dedicate time to sports instead of crime-fighting, compromising service to the public. Hours once spent on playing fields will now be spent on the street, he said.

"We must ensure that the actual strength of the Police Service is at its optimum," Trevor said. "The crime situation is unacceptable, and we need all police officers on board to combat it."

Trinidadians have blasted Paul for a rise in violence, including at least 30 homicides reported this month. Authorities blame warring drug gangs for the increase.

Officers criticized the ban on play time, saying they need an outlet for job-related stress. A union that represents low-ranking police officers said it may sue.

"The directive will deprive officers of their basic right to relaxation," said Emrol Bruce, president of the Police Social and Welfare Association.

Police will still be able play in games organized by the department outside of work.

To stretch its work force, the department is also considering overtime pay for police who forego vacations. High-ranking officers, who represent 25 percent of the force, have agreed to that proposal, said assistant police commissioner Gilbert Reyes.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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