CRIMINAL gangs have entered the transport business by running fleets of "PH" cars, Supt Terrence Nowbutt of the North Central Division warned at a media briefing on Thursday at police headquarters in Port of Spain.
At least one taxi association also had those concerns, as expressed to Newsday on Thursday.
Nowbutt said criminals operate work-to-own vehicles.
"They have these people, especially young people, whom they are giving vehicles to work and they pay for it."
He said such drivers work as lookouts for the gang.
"So while they are working on the road, they are feeding back the gang information, for instance the location of the police and other information the gang may need to carry out their illegal activities."
Nowbutt said gangs also stole vehicles, often to commit robberies or murders.
The most targeted brands were firstly Nissan (including Tiida, AD, Almera and Wingroad), Toyota (including Aqua, Corolla, Fielder and Axio), and Honda (including Civic.)
"The public just has to be aware of these things, how they are operating. We are aware of it, and that is how we are targeting them now."
He said gangs also profited from illegal quarrying, plus the sale of illicit narcotics, arms and ammunition.
Sen Supt Brian Ramphall said many car thefts occurred in housing developments.
He said the police knew who the gangs were, their locations and their structures, and would target priority offenders by intelligence-led policing.
"We know who the major players are, and are continuing to dismantle them."
San Juan Tax Association president Christopher Lara told Newsday some PH taxis on the San Juan taxi stand at Charlotte Street near Independence Square, Port of Spain, were stolen cars with false licence plates.
"They threaten the other taxi drivers.
"Sometimes they park on the stand and if you blow your horn and say, 'You are not supposed to be here,' they threaten you and ask you if you want to die and so on.
"They are frightening legitimate taxi drivers from coming out and working late in the evening. They (legitimate taxi drivers) are frightened for their lives, so these 'PH' cars have literally taken over the taxi stand."
Lara wanted more police at that spot to curb rampant criminality.
"There are police with 'PH' cars out there," Lara claimed. "So they tend to drive past and ignore."
Lara said in recent years things had got worse.
"The recent shooting in New City Mall, it is one of the (legitimate) taxi drivers cars the bandit fell on, and all the blood splattered all over. Crime has taken over. It is really bad."
He said people were afraid to travel and recalled an armed youth robbing a woman in daytime near the stand one Saturday.
"The police are very aware of this history, but do not increase their presence there. When you call for the police, they are saying no they have no police vehicles in the area. It is really horrible."
Lara claimed taxi drivers had been robbed of their cars at gunpoint near the stand. He said people knew of PH drivers smoking weed and drinking alcohol.
"It has become so horrible that it is like people have become frightened to travel any more. It's really bad.
"No matter what police station you go to and try for help, you can't get any."
Media reports show that in recent years, "PH" drivers have been both perpetrators and victims of violent crimes.
Last March, a "PH" driver and his accomplice raped a young male passenger in central Trinidad, while in the same month, a 60-year old "PH" driver of Pleasantville was shot and killed as he tried to resist three bandits stealing his car.
In March last year, in Arima, a 45-year-old "PH" driver was shot in the stomach while resisting two bandits, while in February 2020 in Arima a "PH" driver raped a UWI student.
A "PH" driver infamously murdered Ashanti Riley, 18, in December 2020. Andrea Bharatt, 23, was killed after getting into a car she believed to be a taxi in February 2021.