Violent crimes cost Trinidad and Tobago billions of dollars

Relatives grieve for Brandon Victor who was gunned down at a construction site, Upper Cascade Main Road, St Ann's on March 10. - ROGER JACOB
Relatives grieve for Brandon Victor who was gunned down at a construction site, Upper Cascade Main Road, St Ann's on March 10. - ROGER JACOB

Murders, shootings, woundings, and domestic violence cost TT more than $6 billion in 2022, according to a study presented at the two-day symposium on crime and violence by the Inter American Development Bank.

Rutgers University Professor Andres Rengifo revealed a study showing that violence in TT consumed 4.07 per cent of the nation’s GDP last year.

Last year, murders alone cost the country about $1.4 billion. Rengifo said each of these murders cost US$350,000 or more than $2 million, accounting for 21 per cent of the costs of treating with violence.

Medical expenses alone for a shooting victim is about $80,000, as revealed in a breakdown of the costs behind interpersonal violence. The mental health aspect behind it costs about $50,000. The highest cost of a murder comes in productivity which was estimated to be a $1.2 billion cost to the country, but Rengifo did not detail specifics on how the study quantified productivity.

TT also spent close to $93.9 million on criminal justice costs prior to and after each murder. About $45.89 million is spent on policing, more than $10 million in the judiciary, $9.4 million at the Attorney General’s office, $27 million for imprisonment and a little over a million for parole and probation.

Even enacting the death penalty as suggested by many could cost taxpayers millions, said the Prime Minister while speaking to the media at a post-symposium question and answer session.

“Every single person who is convicted and for whom the penalty is death, they have an automatic appeal in the Privy Council. If you are fighting that what you are fighting is a million-dollar or two, or five, or ten million-dollar expense, which will hardly bring success. Every single person on death row is going to cost the taxpayer millions of dollars as that person is fighting for his or her life,” said Dr Rowley.

Despite the great costs behind murders, it only accounts for one per cent of all the violence in TT. Last year, TT recorded 605 murders, but it also recorded 17,365 woundings and shootings and more 59,630 reports of domestic violence with physical violence.

“Violence varies. They don’t take the same form and they don’t have the same impact and they cannot be addressed in the same way,” Rengifo said. “Gang violence is typically associated with murders, but we also see that it could be showing up in woundings, in school fights and other forms of violence that are less likely to be reported.”

Police at the murder scene of Alex Anthony "Papa" Cooper at Logwood Park, Scarborough, Tobago, on April 9. - David Reid

Woundings and shootings cost medical facilities in 2022 more than $768 million, with $276 million spent on direct medical assistance after being wounded and more than $391 million in counselling. TT also spent about $121 million pre- and post- offence criminal justice costs. Private security as well also garnered about $56 million.

Rowley, in his opening speech at the symposium on Monday, said each wounding and shooting cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to be treated.

“A surgical intervention to the head costs $170,000, for a chest wound it would cost about $135,000; a shot to the leg with surgical intervention would cost about $100,000 and a leg shot without surgical intervention could cost about $100,000.”

“All of these are frequent daily-incurred costs to be borne by taxpayers at every level; from scarce revenues diverted from other more deserving, productive priorities,” he said.

For domestic violence more than $1.3 billion was spent on counselling as a direct cost to victims and associates. More than $230 million was spent on medical costs. Criminal justice costs amounted to about $281.83 million inclusive of costs for policing, prison, operations at the Attorney General’s office and the judiciary.

The overall costs of violence accounts for large sums of expenditure in specific ministries, Rengifo said. About 24 per cent of the police budget is spent on dealing with violence in its various forms. For the Ministry of Health it is about 11.6 per cent of its expenditure. Dealing with violence also takes up more than half or 54 per cent of the Attorney General office’s expenditure and 46.7 per cent of the judiciary’s.

But these costs may just be the tip of the iceberg, Rengifo said. He said only about two per cent of crimes are known to police, mostly because they are tied to domestic-violence incidents that do not necessarily make it to the authorities or to hospitals.

Coming out of covid19, evidence suggested that there was resurgence in the level of violent crime.

An Insight Crime report said that TT saw a 12 per cent increase in murders in 2021, coming out of a murder toll of 399 in 2020. The toll although higher than the year before, was still lower than the 2019 murder toll of 539. TT was ranked fourth in the region in 2021 with a rate of 32 murders per 100,000.

The report has noted that other incidents of crime have reduced but violence increased through kidnappings, violence against women, sex crimes and shootings and woundings.

The highest rate in 2021 was Jamaica with 49.4 murders per 100,000. Police in Jamaica recorded 1,463 murders in 2021, with homicides increasing from 2020 by 10 per cent, until in November when Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called a state of emergency in about a third of the country.

In his New Year's speech Holness said he intended to put stiffer penalties for possession of illegal firearms. In the 15 days after his address, more than 70 people were murdered. The murder toll in Jamaica in 2022 was 1,498.

At the symposium, Caricom heads agreed that the steady flow of guns into the region is fuelling violence. By the end of the symposium, Rowley declared a war on guns, with its first act being a call to on the United States to do more to stem the flow of illicit firearms coming from its shores.

Statistics revealed that the majority of guns in the region come from the US, sometimes through legitimate ports of entry.

In TT, it was determined that more than 70 per cent of violent acts were perpetrated with the use of firearms.


"Violent crimes cost Trinidad and Tobago billions of dollars"

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