PM: Multi-agency approach aims to deter youth from life of crime

File photo: Dr Keith Rowley.
File photo: Dr Keith Rowley.

THE Prime Minister said on Monday that crime will be treated as a public health emergency to deter youngsters, speaking at the briefing at the Diplomatic Centre St Ann's.

He said a new anti-crime plan is being formulated and that now was time for action.

Lamenting a dramatic escalation in crime, he lamented the "brazenness, boldfacedness and impunity" involving firearms, gangs and hired killers.

He said at the weekend's Cabinet retreat, he and Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds had left Cabinet to meet Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob plus defence force leaders. Rowley said he was satisfied the police, defence force and Strategic Services Agency (SSA) were all at work.

Lamenting crime was fuelled by illegal quarrying, he promised to curb such activities.

"It is the Government's intention to declare violent crime as a public health issue."

The effort will be led by the permanent secretaries of the Ministries of Social Development and Health, and involve the Office of the Prime Minister, police service, Tobago House of Assembly and Ministries of National Security, Sport and Education.

He said work has begun, by way of talks and document gathering.

Rowley promised to develop a national plan of action, driven by a public health approach, to define the problem.

"We'll identify the causes and the risk factors. We'll design a response and we will test the interventions that we are going to make and we will implement and scale up the effective interventions and we will support continuous evaluation.

"The objective here is to enter the youth population at various levels and to begin a line of education which should steer people away from participation or being desensitised by crime and criminal activities." He hoped to "generate a wave of people" who would reject crime at the level of their own person, home, school and community.

"We will in short be preparing a better citizenry.

"We are operationalising a response to what is in effect a crisis. "

He said the Health Ministry and others will advise and engage the public.

Rowley said Caricom countries will pool resources towards tacking this problem.

Newsday asked about his hopes for this initiative compared to the 2013 Prof Selwyn Ryan Report, No Time To Quit: Engaging Youth At Risk, plus the 2020 Community Recovery Programme led by Dr Anthony Watkins to curb discrimination, lawlessness, hurt and anger, in at-risk communities.

The PM replied, "I'm not talking about reports. I'm talking about action.

"One of the things we want to do is train our young people in a way that they will be guided away from a violent life and a violent future, as victims or perpetrators."

Newsday asked about the parameters of the initiative, such as the influence of family-breakdown, boy scouts and church.

He said the diverse ministries would each make their input into addressing the challenges at the level of an individual child, school, household and police district.

"Is there anything we can do? What is the nature of the problem?

"It is a quite wide and broad tapestry of action. The aim is to squeeze the criminal behaviour, the criminal conduct, out of the lives of people. But to do so you can't leave a vacuum. It has to be replaced with something else."

Asked the initiative's budget, he replied, "That would be answered when we see what the programme is. Hopefully we'll be able to find the reasonable resources to make the interventions that could come out of this action plan." He reckoned the plan could attract international funding.

Regarding crime happening now, he said the Government was maintaining resources to police officers facing crime.

"We have a serious criminal element in our country – very well armed, very well supported."

In May, Newsday reported that the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) report for 2021, as laid in Parliament, had said younger and more violent gang leaders were killing off older leader, with using dancehall music as a recruitment tool.

"Newer, younger, more violent leaders are emerging and existing gangs are disaggregating with an accompanying level of animosity towards each other," the SSA report said.

"These occurrences, coupled with the branding and association with conflicting music styles and artistes, also encourage the ensuing violence."

Gang-splintering in hot spot communities could lead to the emergence of new gangs, with new symbols and a greater social media presence, all straining law enforcement staff.

The report said, "These newer gangs are anticipated to be more volatile as they try to establish themselves resulting in an increase in murders, injuries, shootings and other violent crimes."

Naparima MP Rodney Charles, in a statement later, chided Rowley's remarks at post-Cabinet, against the backdrop of 300 murders in just under 200 days.

Charles said Rowley had clearly thrown in the towel in the fight against crime and handed over the country to criminals.

"Today we listened in vain to the PM’s news conference, hoping to hear some sort of concrete plan to address an out of control crime crisis."

Charles said Rowley showed he was "unaware, unknowing and oblivious" to the causes of crime and how to finally put a handle on the rising murder rate.

He said in 2017, the PM had promised to use "every resource and avenue that are available" to address crime.

"If these past five years have been the Government’s attempts at utilising every resource and avenue, Heaven help us.

"The Prime Minister has proven, throughout his seven years in office that he is completely bereft of ideas, totally incompetent and out of his depth. "

Charles urged Rowley and Hinds to resign, and even offered to help draft a resignation letter for the PM.

"Citizens are tired of hearing Minister Hinds and PM Rowley say the same thing conference after conference, reciting the same to-do lists over and over. What we need are results."


"PM: Multi-agency approach aims to deter youth from life of crime"

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