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Thursday 22 August 2019
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Curing the violence

Permanent Secretary in the National Security Ministry Glenda Jennings-Smith announced last week that Government had accepted the International Development Bank's Cure the Violence (CtV) model of social engagement for its community interventions. Project Reason, a local programme that was based on CtV, ran in 16 communities from July 2015 until August 2017 in Port-of-Spain over two years, including hotspots Laventille and Sea Lots, as part of an effort to engage with at-risk youth and troubled communities and to pre-empt criminal activity. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has evaluated the TT implementation of their crime prevention model and found it successful.

The CtV system treats crime like a disease and seeks to reduce "transmission." The project engages communities in the interruption of violence at the most effective level, among peers who have earned mutual respect and who can encourage discussion as a preferred way to settle differences instead of the ego-driven one-upmanship and irrational rage that so rapidly escalates to violence. Empathy and mutual understanding can't be enforced by law, but they can grow from seeds within communities that prepare the ground for conversation instead of confrontation.

Rather startlingly, Jennings-Smith admitted, "We tried to access the data (on Project Reason), but there is none."

Citizens Security programme co-ordinator Gregory Sloane-Seale said there were "management challenges" between his agency and the non-governmental organisation that was implementing Project Reason. Which is more than a little odd, because the IDB has prepared an 87-page report on Project Reason which considers the project from before its beginning through the 26 months of its operation and termination.

The IDB found reductions in the crime rate of 45 per cent in CtV areas in the first year of the project and a 38 per cent drop in gunshot-related admissions to the Port of Spain General Hospital, the closest emergency care facility to many East PoS CtV project sites. Clearly those management challenges were severe if the Government can't get actionable data from Project Reason, but they can console themselves with the IDB’s findings which are positive and supportive of the project’s execution. Sloane-Seale made it clear that the project's front-line personnel were "doing incredible work."

In embracing Cure the Violence as its chosen model going forward, the National Security Ministry must place greater emphasis on how these projects work on the ground, monitor them closely and focus efforts on tactics that produce results and value for money invested. Particularly when those funds come from the public purse and target the most vexing problem in civil society today.

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