What about that public health issue?

IN MAY, the Prime Minister noted the increasing viciousness of TT's crime and violence among family members and declared his intention to begin dealing with the problem as a public health issue.

By July, after a Cabinet retreat, Dr Rowley discussed unifying the efforts of ministries for a wide and broad tapestry of action.

To date, he has not clarified how inter-personal violence will be addressed as a public health emergency, while organised and well-armed criminals are proceeding with their own plans.

Meanwhile, the number of murders has continued to rise alarmingly.

Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob hopes to improve policing through the new Grace project, intended to blend gang reduction and community empowerment to create a new breed of police officer.

There hasn’t been any shortage of adventurously named crime response initiatives, but an acting CoP will be challenged to drive such ambitious initiatives within what may be an unfairly short period to achieve their aims. The Police Service Commission (PSC) must get its act together to deliver a substantive CoP with a proper mandate.

Meanwhile, putting more guns in the hands of businessmen by giving them firearm licences won’t help, as the US model of widespread gun availability clearly demonstrates. In this country, the danger is that the guns will end up in the hands of the bandits.

In addition, in a troubling number of violent crimes of late, when the police get involved, it is the bandits who are always said to have started shooting first, but they are the ones who end up dead, raising uncomfortable questions about extrajudicial killings. Many citizens, terrified by the crime situation, may be willing to turn a blind eye to such incidents. But a democratic and open society should hold itself to higher standards than that.

Meanwhile. at the core of managing crime in the context of public health concerns, the World Health Organization advocates using data collection and appropriate surveillance, identifying high-risk groups and implementing preventive strategies.

Key to this are identifying and managing impediments that stymie efforts to prevent violence.

At the core of this response is developing an understanding of crime and violence triggers and sharing that information widely with the public.

Every public health professional understands it is cheaper and more effective to prevent infection than to cure it; but it appears the emphasis in local crime response remains retaliatory violence after the problem takes root. By then, the injuries, physical, psychological and emotional, are deep-seated.

There is a dearth of information on the local risk factors for violent behaviour and little evidence of efforts to deal with these triggers before they become lethal.

The government must articulate its strategy and role in managing violence as a public health issue and the role of police officers – and any other necessary agencies – in carrying it out. Labelling a problem doesn’t solve it.


"What about that public health issue?"

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