THE EDITOR: The Government will take the Anti-Gang Bill, 2017 to the Parliament today. This bill “seeks to make provision for the suppression of associations created for unlawful or criminal purposes and for the better protection of the public.”
In other words, it seeks to make it an offence for a person to be or become a member of a gang. Additionally, participating in, contributing to, harbouring or concealing gang members or recruiting people to a gang will be an offence and will carry penalties ranging from ten years to 25 years in prison.
Former attorney general Anand Ramlogan announced in 2011 that there were an estimated 1,500 gang members operating in TT. This year, Attorney General Faris Al-Wari collaborated with the Police Service and detected an estimated 2,500 gang members. Gang membership has increased by 1,000 people in just six years, most of whom are likely teenagers or in their twenties.
The bill offers a defence to people charged with habouring gang members if they can prove they did not know or could not have reasonably known the person being harboured was a gang member.
There is a maximum detention period of 72 hours for questioning suspects and this period can be reduced to 48 hours if an assistant superintendent or above is satisfied that the detainee is not a person of public interest. Therefore the bill contains elements of due process to ensure that people who are not involved are not pursued.
Citizens are fully aware of the spiralling murder rate over the last decade in particular, to which no government has gained any acceptable level of success. It is no secret that most of these murders are gang related and we as law-abiding citizens suffer the fear of being victims of gang-related activity or being caught in the crossfire.
This bill needs a special three-fifths majority in the Parliament to become law. The then UNC Government received support from the then PNM Opposition with respect to similar anti-gang legislation of 2011 which unfortunately carried a sunset clause.
The UNC members now have a critical role to play in the united fight against crime and in the best interest of safety and security for our citizenry by supporting this bill. This is one of those occasions when we need to put politics aside and put our people first.
The police have signed onto this bill which will truly empower them to get to the root cause of these murders in order to make our country safer.
This bill is really about public safety by discouraging membership in criminal gangs and gang-related activity. We need to truly stand together on this crime-fighting legislation and therefore look forward to the necessary support from the Opposition.
RONALD HUGGINS, PNM senator