On March 13, the country and the world at large witnessed the daring events of a robbery which unfolded at RT Jewellers Ltd on High Street, San Fernando.
At the time High Street, the main thoroughfare was abuzz with shoppers and pedestrians when the daring mid-morning robbery was staged. The three thieves who were unmasked casually walked into the jewellery store with hammers, smashed the glass showcases and ran off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in jewellery.
The robbery was captured on the store’s closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) and the video went viral on social media leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of citizens. Events of the robbery are still spoken of in bars, barber shops, hair salons, fast food restaurants all across the nation. This particular brazen attack and other mid-morning, afternoon and evening robberies have now prompted the coming together of a team comprising members of the San Fernando CID, municipal police, the city’s mayor and the San Fernando business community.
The entities met on March 21 at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium to discuss recommendations to ward off the criminal elements from the city. It was the first of one of many ongoing meetings that would be held with the theme, "Criminals stay clear away from the city of San Fernando".
The head table consisted of ACP Harry Baldeo, Snr Supt Zamsheed Mohammed, ASP Peter Ramdeen, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello. Also present was acting Asst Supt Dexter Martin.
Mohammed said while records have shown a decrease in robberies and burglaries throughout the Southern Division, of which he is in charge, criminals were bent on infiltrating the peaceful city of San Fernando. This gives the impression that crime is on the rise when statistics indicate it is not, he said. Reports said the robbery at RT Jewellers Ltd occurred shortly after 10 am that day. Police said the men stacked the loot in their bags and ran across High Street into Carlton Centre before disappearing down St James Street.
Several people were arrested and questioned since the incident. On March 19, a 26-year- old San Fernando man was arrested after he was allegedly found with a quantity of the stolen jewellery in his knapsack. Orande Mabatano, 26, was taken before Senior Magistrate Cherill-Anne Antoine in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court charged with having in his possession five gold rings stolen from RT Jewellers Ltd.
On March 2, an armed thief walked into the Treasure Chest Jewellery Store along High Street and robbed customers of their jewellery and cash. The thief left his gun behind as he ran off. No arrest has been made into this robbery.
Bandits moving from town to town
Mohammed said police have been and will continue to implement strategies to reduce crime not just in San Fernando but in areas such as Princes Town, Marabella, Vistabella, Tableland and others. He explained the reason for this is that the bandits tend to migrate to other areas.
Mohammed further said criminals who feel they could disrupt the city would be caught and dealt with according to law. "This is what we don’t want. We don’t want the intentions of these criminals to be fulfilled. They must be caught before they commit the crime and we want to send a strong message to the criminals," he said. He said anti-crime exercises would continue weekly.
Mohammed compared statistics from January to March 10, 2017 to the same period this year for break-ins, burglaries, robberies. Last year there were 35 break-ins and 89 robberies, but to date there were 35 and 65 respectively.
In a previous interview, Regrello said one of his concerns was a shortage of manpower in the municipal police division. "We are expecting a batch coming out by October and we will be getting additional officers to augment what we currently have, that would make a tremendous difference in the municipal police staff," he said.
Regrello said the aim is now to work with San Fernando CID police and business owners. Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday, Regrello advised store owners to have guidelines for people entering their stores.
"There are some men who enter a store and wear these baseball caps to hide their faces. If you have to put a sign saying no caps allowed, do so. In that way you can see the faces of everyone who enter the store," Regrello said.
The mayor also advised business owners to train their staff properly and to have skilled and trained security officers on duty. Other suggestions he put forward was the installation of a police post in the city. Many of the business owners said since the latest robbery they are "quaking in their boots".
Give store owners guns
San Fernando Business Association president Daphne Bartlett told Sunday Newsday there was only so much owners could do to secure their stores.
Bartlett said business owners should be given guns to protect themselves.
"Raj", a businessman who did not want to be named, said for him and many other owners, the question is, "Who is next?"
"It is a frightening situation and when you watch that video. This is our reality," he said. Raj told Sunday Newsday owners have done more than enough to secure their businesses and security is now left in the hands of police.
High Street shoppers also said they felt afraid to leave their homes wearing jewellery.
"I think when the country saw that video with the robbery, it was a wake up call. I have since stopped wearing any kind of jewellery when I leave the house," said Josanne Phillip.
Phillip, 35, a mother of two, said she is now alert whenever she walks along High Street. "Especially as women we have to be very careful because somehow for these criminals we may be seen as the weaker sex."
Phillip said two months ago her neighbour was robbed of a gold chain walking along St James Street.
"It was ten o'clock in the morning when a man grabbed her gold chain from around her neck," Phillip said.
Rachel Padmore, 77, said times have changed and criminals are more daring.
"Long ago I could have left the house with my gold bracelet and feel safe. Now you can’t do that these thieves will chop your hand off and take your gold," said the grandmother of five.
Mother of two Merissa Forbes, 42, said her prayer is that things take a turn for the better when police implement their plans.
"People are afraid. I am afraid to walk the streets of San Fernando. I want San Fernando to return to how things it used to be," Forbes said. "The criminals are walking among us and the scary thing is you don't know who is who now."
Jan 1-Mar 10
- Break-ins/burglaries: 35
- Robberies: 89
- Larceny: 43
Jan to Mar 10
- Break-ins/burglaries: 24
- Robberies: 65
- Larceny: 23