Trinidad’s Anti-Crime Strategy Aims to Bring Down Record Homicide Rate
By Dialogo September 23, 2013
Police and military officials have imposed new security measures in Trinidad & Tobago following a recent spate of homicides that rocked this twin-island republic of 1.5 million.
Emmanuel George, the country’s national security minister, called an emergency meeting on Aug. 3, after 12 people were killed in a 72-hour period. The meeting’s purpose was clear, with George telling the Trinidad Express that it was to “deal with the murders.”
After George’s meeting — attended by Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, Chief of Defense Staff Maj. Gen. Kenrick Maharaj and Col. Rodney Smart — officials announced a series of measures aimed at increasing security.
“The suspicion is that at least five of the murders that have occurred in the last few days are gang-related,” George told reporters. “The police are aware of the situation and have taken steps to address it. This means they will continue to do what they’re doing to get guns off the streets.”
The new strategy includes increasing patrols in high-crime areas (including the Port-of-Spain districts of Morvant, Central Street, Beetham Gardens and Lavantille), erecting police-manned roadblocks, installing closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in problematic areas and stepping up vigilance of vessels entering Trinidadian waters.
Stepped-up patrols, roadblocks, CCTV cameras part of crackdown
“We are very confident in what we are doing,” Richardson said at a subsequent news conference. “This is a war and we will win. We are sure about this. It is just a matter of time.”
George said the new measures will put a level of control on the number of incidents taking place” in Trinidad, adding that “the population can rest assured the police have responded and are taking the appropriate action to deal with this spike in murders.”
The new anti-crime measures are the latest to be unveiled by the government of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who became prime minister in May 2010. Following Richardson’s January 2013 declaration that Trinidad would cut its homicide rate in half, the government launched joint military-police patrols and deployed 2,000 additional troops to fight arms trafficking.
The most notable strategic shift occurred in August 2011, when Persdad-Bissessar declared a state of emergency in certain areas of the country affected by gang activity. This included most of Port of Spain and its suburbs, along with the cities of San Fernando, Arima and Chaguanas.
Government defends latest measures
The state of emergency, originally called for 15 days but ultimately extended for 90 days, instituted an 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew and gave military personnel the power to search, seize property and arrest people.
Although opposition leader Keith Rowley described the 2011 decision to implement the state of emergency as a “panicked response,” Persdad-Bissessar defended the move.
“The statistical information tells us clearly that crime reduction, arrests made and the amount of weapons and drugs seized, the number of men and women held on outstanding warrants — the statistics tell us that we achieved success,” the prime minister said following a November 2011 meeting of the National Security Council.
The government’s new anti-crime strategy isn’t as drastic as was the state of emergency declared in 2011, when 354 homicides were reported. That’s still less than 2008 — Trinidad’s most violent year ever — when homicides peaked at 550. Trinidad’s official homicide rate for 2012 is 35.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.