The Organised Crime Intelligence Unit (OCIU) of the Police Service was launched only seven weeks ago but it is already beginning to have an effect.
The unit merges two substantial police agencies: the Organised Crime Narcotics and Firearms Bureau and the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit. Its remit is to pursue, target, dismantle, disrupt and prosecute organised criminal groups and networks. It is also meant to collaborate with other units within the Police Service, the Defence Force, Financial Intelligence Unit, Financial Investigations Bureau, and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit.
While on the surface specialist units can delve deeply into their assigned beat, the merger of the units dealing with drugs, organised crime and gang activity makes perfect sense. Gangs get guns through the illegal gun trade and they furthermore have often been believed to have relationships with underworld developments.
The series of public shootings which were the prelude to the 2011 state of emergency were reportedly believed by security sources to have been the offshoot of a massive drug find by law enforcement agencies. There is often a link between the big fish and the small fry.
The emergence of the OCIU represents a marked change in approach by the State. Too often in the past, in its zeal to combat the development of gangs, the criminal justice system has perhaps inadvertently fanned the flames of gang culture.
The experiment of the anti-gang legislation, which was enacted in Parliament with non-partisan support, has clearly not yielded the results that were hoped for. In fact, by singling out the operation of gangs as isolated entities, the State may have inadvertently glorified gang culture from the perspective of those vulnerable to it.
The crimination of gang activity in itself was never going to be the panacea to solving the overall crime problem which is complex and requires a far more organic approach when it comes to the design of law enforcement agencies.
According to the police, the OCIU has, thus far, seized approximately 29 kilogrammes of cocaine, 209 kilogrammes of marijuana, two pistols and 123 rounds of assorted ammunition. Further, the police have seized 880 firearms for the year.
While these figures must be understood in the overall context of total illicit firearms on the streets, it is clear enough that progress is beginning to be made. Behind every single item seized is a genuine effort by members of the law enforcement fraternity to get the job done. When things go wrong, we do not hold back our criticism of the police. In the same stead, it is important to recognise progress when it is being made.
But there is much more work to be done, as developments this week have shown.
The attack on officers of the Inter-Agency Task Force in Laventille on Tuesday represents perhaps the most pressing item on the OCIU’s agenda. All efforts must be made to assess the facts of that incident and to take action against the perpetrators.
According to reports, shortly after midday the officers were searching cars near the tamarind tree on Old St Joseph Road when they were fired upon during a stop-and-search exercise. Nearby schoolchildren and drivers were endangered. Police called for back-up and the area was cordoned off. A search was done but the gunmen were not found.
It is believed that gang members hiding in the Laventille hills had a hand in this daring incident which constituted nothing less than a brazen attack on the police and the general public. It is essential that the perpetrators, whatever their motivation, be brought to justice. Now that the OCIU is on the go and has begun to deliver results, it must be given all the resources it needs to achieve its mandate. It has a hard task ahead.