National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said 108 legally-issued weapons have featured in serious issues, including four murders.
He said this is an emerging problem in Trinidad and Tobago, and his ministry, through its law enforcement agencies, was working to bring those responsible to justice.
“The gangland thing is generating the majority of the killings, especially in the possession of automatic weapons, and we are now finding that legal weapons have emerged as a problem in TT.
"The police commissioner informed me yesterday that 108 legally-issued weapons featured in serious issues gaining the attention of the police, including four murders. So where we had a problem with illegal guns, we now have a problem with legal guns."
The police have been doing an audit of registered firearm users, in the wake of numerous firearms users’ licences being issued by former police commissioner Gary Griffith.
One firearms dealer, Brent Thomas, was charged in October with three counts of possession of prohibited weapons (automatic firearms) and four counts of possession of prohibited weapons (explosives).
Hinds was responding to a motion brought by Senator Wade Mark on the adjournment of the Senate on Tuesday, when Mark said government was failing to effectively address the rise in serious crime.
“People are living in mortal fear, wondering who is next, where will the next bullet travel?
"I am living in fear, someone could break into my home and murder me and my family.
"The government has a duty to bring the resources of the country to bear on this problem. The number of murders is now around 520, and if the present trajectory continues, we may end up with more than 620 murders in 2022.”
Mark said there was a crime tsunami. He said high levels of unemployment among young people, while it shouldn’t lead them to commit crime, was undoubtedly a factor. He castigated the government for not continuing the Citizens Security Programme.
“A criminologist said it reduced crime by 40 per cent in communities where it was deployed – but the government never funded it.
"They need to let us know what new strategies and measures they are employing to fight crime. Human, capital, and entrepreneurial flight are on the rise, investors are not investing as they ought to, foreign investment is not coming, because of the crime scourge in TT. We cannot continue as we are going. Something has to give way.”
In his response, Hinds said the police commissioner had told him many of the murders were attributable to gang rivalry, and most of the others were domestic.
“Of course, people are living in fear, because dangerous guns and people are about. Concerted efforts have been made to bolster the capacity and professionalism of police officers, and the TTPS has been channelling a substantial part of its resources towards predicting, detecting, and deterring criminal activities.”
He said government and the police were implementing a national firearm-retrieval programme, a collaborative programme between the police, Customs and Excise, the defence force, and Immigration.
“We are on a sustained gun-retrieval programme, which has yielded over 500 this year, including 76 high-powered weapons.
"Evidence is always critical, so the special evidence recovery unit in Cumuto is a one-stop shop. When they get seized firearms, they begin ballistic testing within 48 hours, and where necessary they send it to the Forensic Science Centre for further analysis and attention.
"That situation, in addition to the police case-management system which they are now effecting and teaching across all the divisions, allows the police to get a certificate that can say this is a firearm in 48 hours and under the case management arrangement, they can prepare their file in seven days.”
He said this was one way the police were tackling the delay in the criminal justice system.
Hinds said the CSP continued under the name Building Blocks, and was running well.
“We have many youth programmes, starting with our seamless education system, and we are satisfied, though always looking for more, that there are sufficient opportunities offered by our government and the people of TT for our young people so that they don’t have to turn to a lifestyle of crime.”
He said apart from murders, all other serious crimes have shown downward trends in 2022.
He outlined other initiatives being carried out by the police, including calling out all officers on vacation and pre-retirement leave; a scientifically driven patrol initiative carried out by divisional command centres; strategic positioning of static interceptor patrols; survival and specialist training for the former highway patrol, now the Traffic and Crime detection unit, and the motorcycle patrols; the targeting of priority offenders on the basis of intelligence; the introduction of the gang resistance and community programme (GRACE); improvements in CCTV coverage arrangements; and acquisition of more vehicles.
“I now have a document from the commissioner stating that the police service is really with all the resources it needs and it’s just to go out there and continue the fight.”