The media has a critical role to play in empowering communities to prevent of crime.
So said Criminologist Renee Cummings, trainer for the National Crime Prevention Programme (NCPP), speaking within an interview with Newsday Tobago last Thursday.
Cummings was in Tobago to facilitate a Media Sensitisation Forum for the NCPP, a collaboration between Government and Non-Governmental organisations to engage, educate and empower communities in addressing the core causes of crime and criminality.
“The National Crime Prevention Programme was designed to bring a community- centred approach to crime prevention. This programme is designed to look at safety, security and improving the quality of life of the citizens. Crime prevention is about changing direction through education… you have to educate people about crime prevention so that they could understand the things that create crime…the context for crime to happen…This programme is saying that on a national level, communities and citizens have a critical role to play in crime prevention. It is saying that communities are part of the crime prevention solution,” she said.
The programme, which Cummings said was expected to be launched later this month, would start in three areas - Tobago, Chaguanas and Diego Martin.
She said Tobago would get “organic crime prevention initiatives” with experts in crime in Tobago coming together to design an intervention that is home grown and culturally relevant to the island’s experience.
Tobago will get a “a jump-start because Tobago has moved from one homicide a year to seven, so look at the increase that has happened in a very short space of time.”
Cummings also noted reports of violence at the school level, saying “schools are definitely included because youth involvement and youth empowerment are critical to crime prevention and crime reduction.”
“Young people have got to own this programme, because young people are the victims and they are also the perpetrators of crime… It is said that in Tobago right now, a lot of the students are bringing weapons into the schools and we are seeing a lot of anger among our young people,” she said.
In terms of the media’s role, in working alongside stakeholders to mobilise the campaign, she said:
“It is time for the media to embrace story-telling through a community-centred lens… to change the conversation about crime… introduce more crime prevention instead of crimes being commissioned or the after-effects of crime.
“So, by embracing story-telling through a community-centred lens, what we are saying is that journalism could be the catalyst for change and advancing a crime prevention perspective in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Cummings said the hope was that the media engage in a bottom up framing of the news, that “instead of only showing us the problems and the gang violence and the abuse, dead bodies, what the media could really do is come from the citizens’ agenda and give you people-centred news.
“We are also asking the media through the public education and public awareness and sensitisation campaign of the NCPP, to help the programme inspire persons to act positively, inspire people to change behaviour, move people from been complacent to going out into their communities and seeing how they can make a difference, igniting volunteerism,” she said.
Cummings described the media as a critical tool in empowering communities, making them more effective, more resilient by putting positive images into the public domain as a buffer to the negative.
“In no community, do you have persons who are only perpetrators, or only persons who are victims, you have people in communities who are doing good, who are raising their families, children who are doing good. What this programme is saying to the media is help empower citizens to make a difference. You (the media) could make a difference in terms of how this country sees itself and how young people are seeing themselves,” she said.