ACTING Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob feels confident that the Gang Reduction and Community Project (GRACE) is the key to reducing murders through tackling gang-related activities.
The murder toll for the year has crossed 400, and the police have linked a large percentage of these murders to gangs.
Speaking at the launch of GRACE at the Police Academy, St James, on Wednesday Jacob said this project's approach will allow police to make progress in reducing gang activity and preventing the formation of new gangs.
“I strongly believe that we are on the right track to solve the problems which exist here concerning crime, and deviant behaviour in our society.
“I heard some popular radio hosts, saying how 'Jacob not getting any support, we cross 400 murders,' and I think that the (murder) figures should indicate more and more why we need the support and why we need programmes like the GRACE programme, so we can go in the communities and make the necessary change.”
He admitted, “Murders and other serious crimes are by far the main issue in the country. Therefore, we know that the fear of crime is real and we are aware that the public demands improved performance by the police service.
“The course of crime affects the standard of living, but it’s most overwhelming for those communities plagued by deprivation, discrimination and other challenges. Most of the people involved in street and violent crime come from these neighbourhoods, and there is a direct relation with gang activities."
In 2020, Jacob said 205 of the murders that year were gang-revenge related and involved illegal guns.
“The police responded to this in an all-out campaign to seize firearms from off the street and communities in TT.”
Police have seized 445 illegal guns, 64 of which were high-powered guns. A total of 1, 060 people had been arrested and charged.
He said 70 per cent of the perpetrators were between 16 and 35.
“This project is designed to counter and reverse the events that are claiming these communities,” he added. “It’s the young men and sometimes women from these communities that are arrested and charged, it's young men and women from these communities that are killed.”
The project largely focuses on deterrent intervention, behavioural change and human development through social support.
The findings from this pilot project will be used to train and change the way police handle gangs and their members.
“It’s important to note gang-related murders are most difficult to solve in most countries, and TT is no exception. The lack of the willingness of witnesses to assist the police and provide vital information due to distrust in police, or fear due to the likelihood of retaliation, stresses why this programme is necessary."
The project will see 600 officers trained from 12 police stations in high-risk communities.The blueprint of this programme will be used to deal with gang and gang activity in other communities.
Jacob said, “This is the soft approach to policing. But I say it is also the ideal approach. Because it is not soft at all. If you can positively change mindsets, then you can positively influence their lives, and there is nothing soft about that.:
Traditional and "hard" policing can only go so far, he said.
Gary Joseph, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, said because gang activities and gang violence are a real threat to the way of life in TT, the ministry is working tirelessly to dismantle and root out gangs.
“This model will facilitate community involvement and utilise multidisciplinary teams to secure and directly intervene with the gang-involved young adults most likely to be involved in crime and violent gang-related behaviours.
“Suppression strategies will focus on addressing the most serious crime problems in our investigations.
“By strengthening intelligence-led policing, the most pressing crime and trends related to gang activities can be quickly identified by our law enforcement forces, and addressed thereby reducing the impact, and increasing the success of prevention and suppression measures."
Citizens' security networks will also be formed in each community where GRACE has been implemented.
These networks will comprise organisations, businesses, schools, faith-based organisations, regional corporations and ministries, among others.