COMMISSIONER of police Erla Harewood-Christopher boasted of a ten per cent decrease in murders over the last few months, which, in effect, brought the murder figure down to 392 for the year, the same as for the corresponding period last year.
“I can say from now the comparative homicide rate has reduced. From an increase of ten per cent, we are at an increase of zero per cent over the corresponding period,” Harewood-Christopher said at the TTPS’ Independence Day toast, held at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain, to a spattering of cheers and applause.
She said the homicide rate overall in ten policing divisions was lower than last year's, and “marginally” higher in only five divisions. She added that the overall increase in murders was being driven by the North Central Division.
She added that police had arrested 129 people in relation to home invasions. She also said illegal firearms seizures had increased by eight per cent, shootings and wounding were reduced by 67 per cent and serious crimes by 11 per cent.
“Our intelligence machine has served us well,” she said. “I have the confidence that our strategies are working and we are making strides toward achieving our objectives.
"But I understand very well, that to safeguard that progress, we must continuously review and update our planning, strategising and implementation as we continue to be confronted by desperate, dynamic, resourceful and innovative criminal elements."
Last year, 605 people were murdered, 157 more than in 2021, when the figure was 448 for the year. In 2020 the murder figure was 396.
The murder rate has become so intense that the Government hosted Caricom countries in a symposium to look at crime as a public health issue in April. Caricom heads of state registered grave concern at the rate of illegal export of guns from the US to the region, and declared a war on guns.
A decrease in the increase
Political leader of the National Transformation Alliance Gary Griffith, as well as MP for Naparima Rodney Charles, scoffed at the dip in murders.
Griffith, in a phone conversation with Newsday, said the fact that Harewood-Christopher was using “a decrease in the increase” of murders was indicative of a lack of competent leadership in the police.
“What she is doing is no less than what Martin Joseph had done when he was (National Security Minister) and crime was out of control. She is trying to cover with the stats and say that there is a decrease in the increase in crime,” he said.
“Crime continues to increase at an astronomical rate, but because there is a decrease in the increasing number of murders, she sees that as a success.
"Her measurement is not public trust and confidence in the police service, or the public’s perception of crime, or that we are on par with the highest number of murders in history.”
Griffith said in his last full year of service as commissioner of police – from August 2020-August 2021 – there were 342 murders, some 54 murders fewer than the current figure, with four months left in the year.
Griffith said , however, Harewood-Christopher was not to blame for the murder figure, as she was imposed on the country and the police by the government and the Police Service Commission.
"What is being imposed on us, and the increasing rate of murders, is the fault of a then clueless president who hand-picked people who would work to the bidding of politicians,” Griffith said.
Griffith warned that with the existing rate of murders, TT was on its way to another record-breaking year.
“We are on par. So it is expected that we will reach the same number. But if it reaches 604 murders this year, Harewood-Christopher would say that she succeeded in reducing crime; and the people who applauded her are no different (from) the blind loyalists who support the Prime Minister when he fails.
"So people in the hierarchy that applauded, all of them should resign, because they are acknowledging and commending themselves for failure.”
Charles noted that a few months, ago Harewood-Christopher said there would be a decrease in crime by June this year.
“And here we are celebrating the fact that we are on pace to accept the unacceptable murder rate of last year.
“Meanwhile our borders remain porous and guns are coming in, our scanners are not working as they should, we have extra-judicial killings and our front-line police are not properly equipped with body cams to exonerate themselves.
“The police do not have measurable plans for reducing response times, but we are now in a position where we are celebrating a decrease in the increase.”
Charles said, with the discovery of 3D-printed weapons and weapon components, police were trying to fight 21st-century criminals with 19th-century policing technology and techniques.
“The technology available to the criminals is first-world, while the police continue to operate on third-world principles.”
He added that if TT added all the armed services – including the police, Special Reserve Police, Municipal Police, and the TT Regiment – that are available to support police officers on patrol, it would mean the country would have over 1,000 security officers per 100,000 people.
“This is five times more than Finland and seven times more than Brazil,” he said. “Toronto, with twice our population, has only 5,000 police officers. Toronto’s murder rate is one sixth of TT’s. That tells you that it is not a question of the number of police officers or vacation leave, it is a question of management of the police service.”
Attempts to contact National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds for comment on Harewood-Christopher's revelations yielded no success up to press time.
Erla: Don’t bad-talk police
Harewood-Christopher, at the toast ceremony, admonished naysayers who criticised the performance of the police, saying making negative statements about the police was a dangerous practice that could have deleterious effects on the service.
“In the midst of all that the police has to respond to, it is unfortunate that it has become fashionable, it seems, for people who ought to know better to make vacuous statements against the TTPS.
“While it is not my intention to dignify such comments with a response, I will, however, caution that it is an extremely dangerous practice, as it has the potential to seriously undermine the integrity and the legitimacy of the country’s law enforcement. And that has far- reaching implications.”
Harewood-Christopher reiterated that while police continued to lead the charge against crime, they continued to rely on the public for assistance.
“We would wish that commentators and analysts seek to add more light than heat to the national conversation by expressing views that promote education and personal responsibility instead of fuelling the implausible expectation that it is the sole responsibility of the TTPS to stop crime.”
She said under her leadership, the TTPS would not be intimidated or distracted from carrying out its function to protect and serve.
“No amount of alleging inappropriate police action will insulate any party of interest from the due process of detecting and prosecuting crime.”
Harewood-Christopher added that for crime to be truly reduced, society had to remove the desire of people to commit crime. She added that was not a job for the police alone but for all of society.
She called on the church, homes, schools and communities to do their part and instil in citizens, especially young people, values of right and wrong and respect for authority and the law.
“The reality is that even if the resources of the police were to be doubled or tripled tomorrow, it still does not mean that police would be everywhere that it is possible for a crime to be committed."