ACTING Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob is optimistic the roll-out of the Gang Reduction and Community Empowerment (GRACE) programme, sponsored by the US Embassy, will help reduce gang violence which accounts for just under two-thirds of the annual murders in the country.
Jacob was speaking at a cocktail reception hosted by the embassy at the Courtyard Marriott hotel, Invaders Bay, Port of Spain on Wednesday, where key stakeholders gathered for the event.
In May, the programme was officially launched. It is a partnership between the police service, the embassy and the Pan American Development Foundation as well as other law enforcement agencies. The embassy, through the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has contributed US$1.3 million for the 18-month project which concludes in November 2023.
US Charge d'Affaires Shante Moore said the embassy was happy to partner with the police and noted that over US$10 million was donated to help in anti-crime programmes in recent years.
Already, all divisional commanders and other first division officers have been trained, and another 600 officers are to be trained before the concept is rolled out in 12 districts across the ten police divisions.
Jacob said one of the aims of the programme is to assist police in developing the necessary evidential standards required by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to successfully prosecute gang offenders.
He said internationally gang-related crimes are difficult to prosecute than other categories of crime and witnesses, even law enforcement officers, "may be intimidated by the inherent and implied threat of violence from a gang-involved situation."
The acting CoP said under the Anti-Gang legislation, 81 offenders have been charged and statistics show 60 per cent of murders annually, are gang-related, while a staggering 80 per cent of woundings and shootings are also gang-related.
Jacob said intelligence suggests there are 134 criminal gangs in TT emerging out of six main gangs who are involved in a host of offences ranging from illegal quarrying, drug trafficking, robberies, extortion, land grabbing, sale of illegal guns, human trafficking and stealing cars.
He said for this year, police have seized 482 guns, 72 of which are high-powered rifles, and 644 young men have been charged for those crimes.
"Even though the investigators in the TTPS are aware these young men are involved in gangs, they are unable to reach the the evidential threshold required to charge them for being involved in gangs according to the legislation."
He said in it may be necessary for police to develop gang experts to help juries understand the complexities of criminal gangs.
Jacob said while police officers "are natural warriors," what was needed was an "ideal form of policing," which when combined with community policing, could influence positive change in some challenged communities and cut off recruitment of gang members.
He said he was pleased with the support from several organisations such as the Emancipation Support Committee, the Black Agenda Project, Single Fathers' Association and the Educational Development Centre in Laventille, several faith-based organisations for coming on board to assist the police take back communities from the lure of criminal gangs.
Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox said the Government was grateful to the embassy for sponsoring the programme which will help prevent and reduce violent crimes and enhance the police's ability to investigate and prosecute gang crimes."