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Where ignorance resides
Essentially, the Stephen Williams-led Steering Committee report on the reorganisation and restructuring of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (SAUTT) (2010) tells us that we know dangerously and embarrassingly little about crime in T&T.
We know crime is rising and we know the areas in which crime is concentrated, but beyond that, according to the report, we know nothing about the factors—social, economic, political and ecological—that fuel criminal behaviour; we do not know what deters crime and therefore do not have an explanation for why crime is low in particular areas; we do not have characteristics of perpetrators and/or victims; we do not know how the small size of this country, its ethnic composition, location, level of development, and colonial past affect crime; and we do not have a grasp of how transnational organised crime compounds criminal activity.
The report calls for, as a priority item, a scientific approach to studying and understanding criminal activity. Assuming that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) fulfils its mandate as outlined in the report, I would be more than a little intrigued to learn the findings of that crime analysis.
According to the report, data exist on levels of employment, poverty, education, and family circumstances but the data are national in scope; analyses of the circumstances as they exist in specific communities are not available. When national-level analyses are applied to neighbourhoods, fallacies arise.
One such persistent fallacy is that high levels of unemployment automatically lead to criminal behaviour; there is no data to confirm that the unemployed are the ones committing crimes or that those committing crimes are unable to find work.
Another pertinent issue identified in the report is the stubborn strategy of importing military personnel into crime-fighting roles. The leadership of these soldiers and former soldiers is described as “ill equipped and authoritarian.”
“Military officers are trained and indoctrinated in defence studies which involve military strategies and battlefield tactics” but “they are not schooled in the broader discipline of national security studies hence they are not trained to deal with societal issues like crime.”
On the death penalty as ultimate punishment for murder, the report is firm in its recommendation that “this mechanism should be thoroughly and rigorously analysed before a decision is made to use it.” While not overtly decrying the death penalty, the report does say that speed and certainty of apprehension and justice deters crime, whereas the harshness of punishment does not appear to discourage criminal activity.
I have no reason to discount the analysis and recommendations of the report. For the most part the writing is clear and accessible although doughtily academic in parts, such as the paragraph using the word “farraginous” and those with repetitive use of “ineluctable.”
It is written by Prof Daniel Gibran, who, from the preliminary research I have done, is a Guyanese-born academic now working as Professor of Political Science, International Relations Theory, International Security, and International Political Economy at Tennessee State University.
In April this year he was one of four academics described by the European Union Centre of Excellence Studies Centre (EUCE/ESC) as “top experts” on a panel discussion on the 1982 war between Argentina and Great Britain over ownership of the Falkland Islands/Las Malvinas.
Prof Gibran has actually written on the war in The Falklands War: Britain Versus the Past in the South Atlantic (2008). His other publications include the 92nd Infantry Division and the Italian Campaign in World War II (2001), and an important commissioned study on the Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honour in World War II which led to the US Congress passing legislation that allowed President Bill Clinton to confer the highest military award to seven Buffalo Soldiers in 1997.
With such credentials, and alongside the depth of experience and clarity that I imagine current acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, would have brought to the process, I wonder why the Government, through its National Security Minister Jack Warner, seems to have ignored all the advice.
The report was submitted to former National Security Minister John Sandy in December 2010; the minister assigned to put a cap on crime would have seen himself in the section on “ill-equipped and authoritarian” military-style leadership.
The current minister, though without military background, has consistently defied the report recommendations by expanding the role of military personnel in crime fighting; he talks about soldiers in schools to help with discipline, has inserted soldiers into the Hoop of Life programme, focused heavily on joint police/army exercises in communities, and is using soldiers in the East Port-of-Spain People and Projects for Progress programme.
In east Port-of-Spain, the minister is demonstrating the fallacy identified in the report that “…high levels of unemployment in T&T do not, in any way, mean that those who are unemployed are the ones committing the crimes.” As in the Hoop of Life million-dollar basketball competition, Warner continues to shoot in the dark.
And his fervour to pop necks remain unabated. Long after the submission of the report, Warner—and the now expurgated Herbert Volney—continued petitioning the Government and population with simplistic conclusions about the usefulness of the death penalty.
Apparently, in addition to rubbishing the advice of independent thinkers in the society, the Government also ignores the counsel of those it has commissioned to issue it.
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