SOME 8,154 illegal firearms are circulating in Trinidad and Tobago, according to estimates by the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), revealed Fitzgerald Hinds yesterday as he chaired Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security. JSC member Nigel De Freitas noted the police’s seizure of 1,054 firearms and 18,000 bullets in 2017, and slightly fewer of each item in 2018. Saying people were daily witnessing a prevalence of illegal firearms in TT, he said these were not coming in by a pirogue at night on some isolated beach but rather entering through this country’s legitimate ports. “What we should be hearing today is that we need to wrap this up. We know it’s coming in and we need to find it.” Acting ACP Jayson Forde said, “On average we recover about 1,000 firearms a year. This year so far we have already recovered 124. The fight continues. We have been recovering firearms despite the challenges.”
He lamented that because people plead “not guilty” to firearm possession in court the police are unable to find out where guns are coming in to TT.
In reply to member Paul Richards’ query about 1,064 firearms being seized in one year compared to the 8,154 estimate of those now in circulation, Forde said the former was a “huge amount” but was not cause for celebration when compared to the 8,154 figure.
Richards said that if TT has 2,000 gangs each averaging 20 members – giving a total of 40,000 gangsters – then 8,154 guns might be an underestimate.
Forde denied this, saying, “Every gang member may not possess an individual firearm. The figure might be difficult to accurately have.”
Saying some 169 guns are used in most crimes, Richards could not marry this figure to the existence of 2,000 gangs, saying, “The numbers don’t seem to add up.”
Otherwise, Forde said in recent years the police had met far more assault-type weapons than in the past. Asked by Hinds if these were weapons of war, that is military weapons, Forde admitted, “They are using a higher grade of ammunition.”
The committee at length probed the Customs and Excise Division and the Port Authority on their lack of resources to monitor ports against the entry of illegal guns. At the questioning of Hinds, Customs Asst Comptroller (Ag) Keith Huggins said a container scan takes 5-10 minutes (fixed scanner) or 10-15 minutes (mobile scanner), but in fact the whole process of matching up the detected images to the importer’s declaration actually takes one hour and 15 minutes. Hinds said nothing much had been done since 2017 to implement the JSC’s previous recommendations for securing the Port of Port of Spain, including a failure to build a car-ramp under which staff could inspect for contraband items. He also lamented a lack of proper CCTV coverage.