It would be surprising if the collapse of the Police Service Commission and the confusions surrounding the appointment of a Police Commissioner did not affect morale within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
No organisation performs at its best under the kind of uncertainty now existing at the very top of the TTPS, where one leader is on the job providing operational leadership while another is on the outside with a claim to the same position. While today’s ruling from Justice Nadia Kangaloo may have an impact on this situation, the unstable environment within which the TTPS is operating cannot be conducive to optimum performance.
This point is worth underscoring in light of intensified gang activity which is claiming multiple lives on a daily basis. With murder statistics for 2021 now running neck and neck with last year’s, the Police Service must act now to get the upper hand against gangs before the situation spirals out of control.
Former and acting Commissioner Gary Griffith has attributed last year’s decline in murders to the “fear factor” that his policies fuelled among criminals, serving as a deterrent. We cannot say if this is so or not. However, the impact of pandemic-related lockdown measures cannot be ruled out.
Responding to the spate of murders between Monday and Tuesday, acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob linked the increase in murders to gangs fighting for contracts, drug turf and a spillover from illegal quarrying. It was predictable that the easing of restrictions would trigger a mad scramble for turf and advantage among gangs whose criminal enterprises had been severely disrupted by the lockdown. This newspaper had repeatedly urged the TTPS to anticipate and prepare for such an eventuality, and to use the lockdown period to put in the investigative work needed to prosecute the 100-plus gangs known to the Service. However, despite the tough anti-gang legislation passed by the Parliament, little headway has been made.
Far from being in retreat, gangs are advancing beyond their strongholds with complete impunity. It is now commonplace for them to follow their targets into public places and spray bullets into groups of people.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal on us, having claimed 1,572 lives as of yesterday, it has also provided a space for re-thinking approaches to intractable problems. Crime is one such problem T&T needed to get on top of over the past year and half. However, judging by the deadly force with which the beast of gang crime has sprung to life, the scale is still tilted against law and order.
This is worrying because the re-opening of T&T’s borders and the global economy will not only fuel turf and contract wars among gangs in T&T, but throughout their global network.
As a trans-shipment point for the trafficking of drugs, guns and humans, T&T must brace for a return of criminal enterprises with a vengeance. South American gangs that traffic their products through this country to North America and Europe will find fertile ground for recruiting agents and labour here, given T&T’s depressed economy. Gang crime could get very much worse if not reined in now.