LIKE Police Commissioner Gary Griffith who, upon assuming the office had staked his reputation on a reduction of the murder toll, the large majority of the population entered 2019 hopeful about a significant turn in the tide of crime.
With new leadership bolstered by the activation of a Special Operations Response Team, administrative improvements within the Police Service, a plethora of new legislative measures and even cash rewards, the fight against crime seemed well and truly on.
And yet, as the year comes towards its end, Trinidad and Tobago stands perilously close to surpassing its murder toll for last year and on course for registering its second highest annual murder rate in recorded history. The reasons behind the failure to keep murders down are varied and complex.
It had been suggested by Commissioner Griffith, for example, that the disruption of criminal networks by the police is fuelling internal gang wars to deadly effect. This is a well-known and challenging consequence of police crackdowns against the underworld which should be incorporated into police strategy. However, the lack of hard information to disaggregate homicide victims makes it difficult to determine exactly how many murders are actually gang-related. What we do know is that a substantial number of murders are not gang-related but the result of robberies, domestic violence, sexual assault, property disputes and alcohol-related anger, among others. While the Government’s legislative hard-tackle on gangs may reap some reward, the complexity of factors underlying the violence that afflicts the society requires a far more integrated approach.
Draconian bail laws and tough policing will only go so far where the fundamental problem has its roots in family and community breakdown, ineffective social services, and an education system that is unable to keep the attention and involvement of our young people. If there is anything useful about a murder toll of over 500 this year, it is that it underscores the point that T&T’s crime problem will not be solved only by tougher policing and legislation. While both are indispensable to the battle, their own success depends on many other elements working together over the short, medium and long term.
This newspaper has repeatedly tried to focus the Government’s attention on serious pursuit of a more integrated approach to crime.
While several governments have taken steps in this direction, most have remained at the level of talk and stakeholder consultation. In the few cases where recommendations were implemented, they have suffered from being partial and lacking the authority of coherent national leadership. This is not a job for only the Ministry of National Security or the Police Service. The factors that give rise to crime in a multitude of forms run deep and wide, including through culture, the financial and economic system, and the power relations within the society. No prime minister, however, has taken ownership of the problem as theirs to solve, preferring to delegate.
As long as the problem of crime continues to be addressed as merely one of policing and security, T&T will find to its cost that it has neither enough police officers, nor laws, nor jails to deal with it.