Elizabeth Gonzales and Darren Bahaw
More than a sustained, rigid, crime-fighting approach is needed to break the recurring upward trend which has seen a staggering jump of over 100 more murders this year than in 2021, says acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob.
Despite this alarming statistic, Jacob assures the public that the police are working to keep this year’s toll below the 440 average tally for the last 15 years but took no solace in the death toll.
“If we can keep the murder rate at an average of lower than 30 (a month) for the rest of the year per month, we might be able to fall into the normal average we have for the 15-year period... We are trying our best to cut it down, it will take hard work,” he said in a telephone interview on Saturday.
In 2021, between January to July, TT recorded 206 murders. Before the end of the third week in July this year, the country has had 307 murders.
Jacob said the restriction of public movement under the covid19 Public Health Ordinance in 2020 and 2021 significantly contributed to the relatively low numbers for the same period in those years.
A fair comparison, he said, would be to look at the data for the same period pre-covid19.
“I strongly consider 2020 and 2021 as skewed years in relation to the crime situation in TT because of the significant impact by covid19 and the various lockdown measures through the regulation similarly to 2011 when we had the state of emergency.”
“Even though the executive of the police do not take any solace or comfort when we do the comparison in 2018 and 2019; around this time we had 370 murders and 325 murders respectively. This demonstrates the kind of effort the police service and the country on a whole needs to make to deal with crime in the country.”
He noted that even with covid19 and the state of emergency the average murder toll remained fixed.
Therefore, Jacob believes, that “no one or anyone of the head administration can take pleasure or credit in relation to what is happening.”
Last week the Prime Minister declared violent crime a public health issue. In a press conference, on July 18, Dr Rowley said an inter-governmental approach was needed using an operationalised response, to specifically target young people and steer them away from crime and criminality.
A committee comprising of public servants including the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development was established to come up with solutions.
Rowley also met with Jacob, during a break of two-day Cabinet retreat last week, as he summoned the National Security Council to discuss the burgeoning crime situation.
While he could not say what was discussed at that meeting, Jacob said the Government's decision to take a different approach falls in line with the object of the police service and is expected to complement existing crime-fighting initiatives.
When this declaration takes effect, Jacob said police will narrow their focus on those already in the criminal system.
He said police have noticed the need to spend more time with dealing a surge in domestic violence and other related areas that are the root causes of crime and criminal behaviour.
“We strongly believe that the combination of agencies coming on board to deal with the root causes will be able to, in time to come, reduce that average of 440 murders per year to a much lower figure.”
“We need to deal with the root causes and we also need to be more resilient with the hardcore aspect of policing.”
“If we are fooled or we take the pleasure that there was something significant done by the police service in 2020 or 2021 when there were 399 murders by 450 murders, that there was something magnificently done by the police service in crime, we would be fooling ourselves. “
“We need to get our heads together and continue working to resolve the crime situation in TT.”
Jacob admitted that the emergence of some migrants joining criminal gangs has posed another challenge for police but officers are equipped and more organised to deal with this developing phenomenon. He said other challenges include the emergence of gangs trafficking in illegal weapons, human trafficking, illegal quarrying and land grabbing in the Eastern Division, a surge of illegal gambling by the Chinese, apart from gang-related murders, domestic murders and other disputes which result in murders.
He said while many of the Venezuelan migrants were hard-working, law-abiding, there are others who "have added a different layer to our crime situation.”