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Guns used in 80 percent of murders in TT

By JANELLE DESOUZA Saturday, January 26 2013

click on pic to zoom in
Ag Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams...
Ag Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams...

Firearms are used in almost 80 percent of the murders in the country, therefore it is critical that the police target getting guns out of the hands of criminals.

So said Ag Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, at the AmCham monthly meeting at the Hilton yesterday.

According to Williams, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) recovers firearms almost every day. He said it was important for the police to find ways of reducing the illegal entry of firearms at lawful ports of entry, as well as through illegal points of entry along the porous borders of country’s coastline. He noted that the police would continuously face that challenge unless the borders are secured effectively.

He said Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPVs) would not secure the borders because the OPVs would operate in distant waters, but not the “close borders.” Instead, it was necessary to find a mechanism to enhance 360 degree radar coverage, as well as the capacity of the Coast Guard in order to facilitate the securing of the close borders.

“By way of a strategic priority, it is critical for us to target the reduction of all forms of violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago over the next 12 months,” he said. The TTPS has therefore set a goal of 23 percent reduction in serious crime. If they meet that goal, murders would dip to under 300 for the year. The Police are also working towards a 50 percent reduction in serious crime over the next three years.

However, he lamented that, the reduction of the public’s fear of violent crime was one of the police’s biggest challenges. He said even when the number of serious crimes was generally low, the perception was that it was high, because people only focussed on violent crimes.

“There is a clear disconnect between the levels of crime in Trinidad and Tobago, and the fear of crime that exists,” he said. “No matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter what numbers we put out, no matter what form of statics you present, there is a perception that those numbers do not match up to the real thing.

“Unless we can impact violent crimes in a significant way,” he continued, “especially murders, we will be unable to get people to focus on the reality of the situation — that of crime generally being low in TT. People would never see the low levels of crime unless they take their gaze away from violent crime, and to take their gaze away from violent crime, violent crimes must drop.”

Williams also pointed out that most violent crime victims and offenders were between the ages of 13 to 29. Therefore the police intend to focus on young people through police youth clubs, engaging them in positive activities that he believes would make them less prone to violent, criminal activities in the future.

In addition, Williams noted that, annually, close to 26 percent of murders in the country occurred in Port-of-Spain Division, which includes Laventille, Beetham, and Sea Lots.

He said for the first eight months in 2012 there was an average of 35 murders per month. The last four months in 2012 averaged 25 murders, which was a 29 percent reduction on the eight month average.

He said the decrease in murder figures was not seasonal, or by accident, but a concerted effort by the TTPS who launched a Violent Crime Reduction Initiative in September 2012. The murder figures were 26, 25, 25, and 26 for September, October, November and December respectively.

“I submit that it’s not by accident. Deliberate efforts to target the areas wit the highest levels of violent crime, especially murders, allow you the benefit of reductions.”

Williams did not give any figures on the rate of crimes solved.

However, he highlighted several visible changes the public should expect in 2013.These include active presence of officers on the roads, including highways; CCTV cameras at all police stations; gyms at key police locations, including the new stations being built; offices mainly staffed by civilians; increased focus on youths.

Williams stated that in 2013, training of officers would be a critical component in the crime fighting strategy. The TTPS would pursue a firearm training programme to retrain their officers, and attempt to acquire a firearms simulator to act as a substitute for live firing on the range. Also, from March to May 2013, 200 officers would be exposed to an online, evidence-based policing training programme, facilitated by the University of Cambridge, under the stewardship of Prof Laurance Sherman, one of the leading criminologists in the world.

In addition, Williams said the TTPS intended to implement a service oriented policing model — Policing for People; implement the COMPSTAT crime control model; and adopt an evidence-based policing approach. These would involve police attentiveness, reliability, fairness, manners, rapid deployment of resources, rigorous follow up and assessment, restructuring of the TTPS, a change in “negative culture” and more.

He pointed out however, that it was necessary for the police to have the capacity to execute plans. “Great execution of good strategy would allow us to gain the results around crime reduction, crime control, and the creation of a safer place for all,” he said.

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