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Going hard at criminals

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Not too long ago, National Security Minister John Sandy, in his address to launch Pan Relay in Laventille and signal the return of Witco Desperadoes to the hotspot, urged Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs to “go hard, and go hard at the criminals.” This was followed closely by a meeting summoned by the Prime Minister of all heads of law enforcement agencies, ostensibly to ensure that all these agencies were singing from the same page.  

This waving of the big stick is nothing new. Yet all of it is but cold comfort to those affected daily by crime and the fear of crime. The chamber would be interested to learn what has been the impact on homicides and serious crime since both these events. Minister of Labour Errol McLeod, during the course of debate on the Anti-Gang Bill in the Lower House, clearly signalled that he did not intend to fall within the category of those intimidated by criminals. He was, at the time, making his contribution in support of the tough sentences prescribed for offences in the bill.

The chamber commends his resolve, and, at the same time, encourages the Opposition to support the bill and stop criticising the severity of measures under the guise of giving useful offenders a second chance and describing the statute as “draconian.” The chamber wishes to remind them that the nation’s children and communities in gangland are never given any second chance whatsoever in recruitment drives, the earning of stripes and orders to conduct criminal activities. This bill has since been sent to a Joint Select Committee and once it emerges for parliamentary debate, we hope that support for this legislation will be unanimous. The real challenge, however, will be enforcement.

Since the utterances of Minister Sandy in Laventille, the chamber has been trying to interpret the meaning of “going hard” on criminals. If it means similar exercises to those conducted by heavily armed police officers of the Western Division Focus Mission Team (FMT) at Pioneer Drive in Petit Valley, then the chamber wholeheartedly supports the random roadblocks, stop-and-search exercises and early morning raids that reflect this behaviour. One newspaper report indicated that there was a 24-hour presence by police officers in this hotspot comprising a static team which responded and acted on information immediately, smashing drug blocks and nabbing serious crime offenders. 

Inspector Lennox Edwards of the same division promised that there is no area the FMT is not covering, and that since the round-the-clock police presence was implemented there was a lull in crime in Petit Valley, which he hoped would continue into the New Year. The chamber certainly concurs and urges that this example be duplicated in the many other hotspots in the country, eg, parts of Arima, Pump Trace in Laventille, Gonzales, Beetham Gardens, the Mt Hope area etc, since criminal elements and the gangs are going to intensify their operations to counter those “going hard” by law enforcement. 

Similarly, if this policy also involves the recent resumption of operations of the Strategic Intelligence Agency to provide the type of intelligence required to drive exercises similar to those by the FMT at Pioneer Road, instead of the hitherto illicit activities in which that agency was engaged, the chamber says yes to the resumption and expects that intelligence acquired from the use of the airship and the 360-degree island-wide radar, will augment the efforts by law enforcement agencies. Simultaneously with this drive, the replacement of the Licensing Authority, the full computerisation of its operations and introduction of electronic number plates for all vehicles must be part and parcel of the acquisition of “intelligence” and enforcement of the law by these agencies. 

If “going hard” at criminals also means an immediate review of the operations of the nationwide CCTV system and the networking of GPS for all vehicles used by law enforcement, then the chamber supports Minister Sandy’s instructions wholeheartedly. It also should mean that with this surfeit of information and intelligence—together with that from Crime Stoppers, 555 and private security companies as well as reports from John Public to each district police station and post—the consequential action flowing from all of this information and intelligence will not be able to impact positively to lower the rate of crime unless the shortage of manpower in the Police Service to the tune of some 1,600 officers is also addressed, and addressed immediately.

Does Minister Sandy’s statements also relate to the four critical areas of the anti-crime initiatives recently published by Police Commissioner Gibbs? We still await the statistics which should disclose whether there has been any reduction in crime and the fear of crime, especially coming upon the heels of this policy. The commissioner’s promise of improvements in customer service from police officers and the effectiveness of policies and elimination of inefficiencies therein, will only come true if there is some survey, benchmarking or targets to measure such improvements, as we have said before.

The recently launched system to issue receipts to members of the public who make reports at police stations throughout the country may be one such indicator on condition that the accountability of that system is in place and practiced. The work of the recently appointed Police Complaints Authority will provide another measure of such improvements. The chamber trusts that Minister Sandy’s “going hard” at criminals policy has also been the subject of delicate discussions with the Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Prisons, since any overwhelming success in the execution of that policy is going to impact on the competence and efficiency of these areas of authority. One bottleneck or breakdown, will be a lack of support for some of these very institutions, spelling potential failure of this policy.The country has had enough talk and is looking for results now. Going hard at criminals is an imperative!


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