The Tobago police and TT Defence Force have rallied to fight against rising gang-related crime on the island, ACP Collis Hazel announced on Wednesday.
He said the joint force is a measure ment to deal with gangs believed to be behind the spate of murders, of which six have been recorded for the year, so far.
“Tough times call for tough actions and as the leader, I give you the assurances that life in Tobago... demands tough actions," Hazel said during joint press conference, at Shaw Park Cultural Complex on Wednesday.
He outlined the format for the joint operations which includes random searches.
"I have instituted two teams of officers led by two inspectors of police, who have been given the mandate together with the TT Defence Force to rid all corners of Tobago of gangs and drug blocks that are presently causing havoc to our beloved citizens. Life would not be easy as I ask law-abiding citizens to bear with us as we search all vehicles and homes that are causing this disruption to our beautiful citizens of Tobago.”
He added: “My officers are committed to the execution of our mandate and that of achieving the strategies and objectives that we have set out for ourselves.”
TTDF director of operations Major Michael Adams, at the media conference, pledged support to Tobago's crime-fighting efforts saying the technical and tactical support was necessary and is being given to “walk back” the increasing levels of criminality affecting the island with a focus on anti-gang initiatives.
“Our efforts in supporting the TT Police Service will focus on four lines of effort – joint patrolling, targeted operations, increased planning and support for strategies and concept development as well as community development initiatives so that we build greater resiliency in the communities. Crime and gang proliferations is a community-based phenomenon and the improvement in the community is not only affected by the hard policing efforts but also those softer efforts that see building resiliency and allows the community to develop as a unit.”
He said the known gangs that exist in Trinidad are already resident in Tobago adding that there are drug blocks which Tobagonians and the police are aware of.
“It is our intention to rid them of their operations.”
Questioned about how guns are getting to Tobago, Hazel pointed to access at both legal and illegal ports, with the source of the weapons traced to the US.
“Most of the firearms that we have been able to secure on both the islands are manufactured out of the United States of America. In terms of them getting on land in Tobago, we know that they have been coming here in various ways, both legal and illegal ports. A firearm cannot fly, we have not had any intelligence that is telling us that 'Jones' is bringing firearms here, so they are coming here with persons, they are coming here in vehicles, they are coming here via our porous borders and they are coming here by persons who purport to be fishermen. So, we would want to treat with these issues and deal with these persons.”
In an interview on the Spot-On programme on Tobago Channel Five on Tuesday, Hazel also dealt with the gangs issue, again tracing the link to Trinidad.
“Gangs that are popularly known from the Trinidad space are recruiting their membership on the island here in Tobago and fighting for turf, sad to say, in Tobago.”
He said the turf for guns and for drugs are the main issues.
“We have seen that infiltration coming through, in very small numbers, and therefore our focus now is basically on the disruption of gangs on the island before it infiltrates and spreads and we can’t contain it.
"So there is a disruptive element that we are going after in order to treat with persons, based on our intelligence, who are involved in these gangs.”
In November 2022, then ACP William Nurse told Newsday there are 20 gangs spread across Tobago. He claimed about 70 per cent of Tobago's most notorious criminals live in areas such as Golden Lane, Les Coteaux. Nurse had said a report by the intelligence unit showed there were small gangs in Lambeau and Government House Road.
Hazel told Channel Five the covid19 pandemic had taught people to work remotely, and shots were being called from inside the prisons.
“Therefore, what we are talking to is the fact that Tobagonians now need to band (together) more than ever and understand that the police is not your enemy, the police is a friend indeed to help to protect you.”
He appealed to all to partner with him.
“Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, I am wearing the crown. I looked at all the persons who celebrated my success on coming to Tobago. I am Tobagonian, I am respected, I am trustworthy – provide me with the information to help us solve crime.”
He promised confidentiality and repeated his call for Tobagonians to help.
"You’re Tobago-led, you have Tobago leadership, I’m your Tobago boy. Provide me with that information on crime and criminality in your community, and I trust you that you would get results and you would not be anyone that is targeted (over) information leaking to anyone.”
He said the island needs to be cleaned up.
February 9: Plymouth resident Nigel Sandy shot near his home, died at hospital.
April 9: Alex “Papa” Cooper, 22, originally from Moruga, gunned down at Logwood Park, Scarborough.
April 8: Lynch Bovell, 49, of Sesame Street, Bethel, shot; died at hospital on April 12.
April 27: Donneil Thomas, 40, from Signal Hill, shot at his home.
May 4: Edward Eastman, 68, found murdered in Golden Lane.
May 9: Hakeem Thomas of Mt Pleasant, shot; died at hospital.