The glimmer of hope the family of Ria Sookdeo felt when investigators arrested a police constable and his sister for the woman’s abduction was dashed yesterday after the suspects were released.
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Johnnie Abraham: Central on high alert
“You know police does sleep. We are always on high alert in Central. We are prepared for anything...The community has confidence in us; we get a lot of calls daily.”
While the rest of the country is under siege by criminals and the police are facing heavy criticism for their apparent helplessness, Central residents are sleeping a little more comfortably and are gaining confidence in officers in the division. Many believe the reason behind this is acting Snr Supt Johnnie Abraham, head of the division.
Abraham has been in Central since July 2010 as superintendent of operations. In December 2013, he was put in charge of all police stations and officers in the area, and given overall responsibility for crime-fighting and maintenance of law and order in the division. Within the first four months of 2014, crime statistics took a nose dive in Central. And Abraham insisted he was not cooking the figures.
For the year, so far, nine notorious gang leaders have been gunned down by officers from the Central Division and more than three dozen guns, some high calibre, seized.
Johnnie Abraham is becoming something of a hero in Central for his fearlessness in the war against resident criminals, and those who dare to enter, armed with weapons as sophisticated as those used by the police. Unfazed by death threats, he is being likened to the deceased ace crime-fighter of the 1980s, Randolph “The Fox” Burroughs. Who is Johnnie Abraham and what is the secret of his success?
The Sunday Guardian went straight into the “engine room” of the Central Division last Thursday, the Chaguanas Police Station, where Abraham’s office is located, to find out. In his trademark straw hat, and with a high-powered Israeli Galil assault rifle next to him on his desk, Abraham spoke unreservedly about his crime methods, corrupt officers in Central and his humble beginnings.
Throughout the interview, he was in constant contact on a walkie-talkie with his officers out on patrol, instructing them to pay particular attention to malls and eating places which would be flooded by primary school students after they had completed the SEA examination. When Abraham was just three months old, his mother, an East Indian, died, leaving him and 12 siblings with their father, an Afro-Trinidadian, in their modest home in Caparo in Central.
“I grew up calling my big sister Joan ‘Ma,’” he recalled. Abraham said his family was poor and he only made it up to primary school, graduating with a school-leaving certificate from the Caparo RC Primary School in 1970. After school, he worked in the cocoa estates in his village to help out the family. The father of five, he still lives in Caparo and rises at 4.30 am every day to tend to his pumpkins, cassava and plantains he planted in a garden at the back of his house.
But Abraham was destined for bigger things. In 1977, the police accepted him as a recruit and, since then, there has been no stopping him. “With no education, the only thing I could cling to was the police service,” he said. Abraham went on to do an associate degree in crime management at Costaatt and “one or two” crash courses in homicide criminology, juvenile delinquency and other areas.
It was a job he grew to love and over his 36 years in the service, he has been awarded over 75 commendations, some from overseas, for his devotion to duty and prompt response. “I was always like this,” he said, recalling his stint in the Homicide Division in the Northern Region from 2002 to 2010. He was the man behind the arrest of five men for the 2005 murder of Dr Edward Khoury, whose decapitated head has never been found to this day.
Abraham was also behind the 2009 arrest of Silas Mack, accused of kidnapping several young girls in Chaguanas. He was a key figure, too, in the arrest and sentencing of four men, including a soldier, for the murder of US citizen Balram “Balo” Maharaj.
No crime plan?
“I don’t have a crime plan,” Abraham said. “I telling you up front.” But general crime, not to be confused with homicides, is on the decrease in Central, he said. Showing statistics from the Police Crime and Analysis (Capa) branch, he said from January to April 2013, there were 717 serious crimes. For the same period in 2014, the number went down to 343. In 2012, there were 3, 219 serious crimes in the Central Division and in 2013, it was reduced to 1,820. “There were 120 less crimes,” he said.
For the year, so far, Abraham’s men have recovered 36 firearms and 449 rounds of ammunition.
How does he do it?
Abraham’s modus operandi is based on the use of statistics from Capa, set up in May 2007 to strengthen intelligence-gathering. This method has been very successful, he said. He noted a branch of this data-processing unit, which analyses information from crime reports and other sources is in every division. He takes full advantage of it. “I look at where crime is happening and target these areas, and shift officers accordingly. “Criminals also have a modus operandi, too.”
He briefs his officers every morning, and prayer is a part of his modus operandi. “I tell my officers to say a prayer. I pray from the time I get into my vehicle until I reach to work.” In his war on killers, Abraham is guided by the oath of practical homicide investigation given to him by the New York City Police Department in 1988. The oath is founded on the fifth commandment in the book of Exodus in the Bible which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” It states, “Homicide investigation is a profound duty, and remember, you are working for God.”
From Las Lomas to St Margaret’s
His jurisdiction stretches from Las Lomas in Caroni to St Margaret’s in the south, and is “jamming Rio Claro” in the east, he said. There are five A stations—Cunupia, Caroni, Chaguanas, Freeport and Couva—and several smaller ones, under his watch. He has about 310 officers out on actual duty (there is a total of 365). He has 62 officers in the Tactical Unit and 13 in the Criminal Investigation Department. “Another strategy is visibility. Less officers at their desks in the station and more on the outside.
“We do a lot of stop-and-search exercises. In other stations, we have two vehicles out.” Most times, Abraham says he is out with his officers, leading from the front. And when he is not, he communicates with them every half-hour, “to make sure they are waking,” he said. “You know police does sleep. We are always on high alert in Central. We are prepared for anything. “The community has confidence in us; we get a lot of calls daily.”
Responding to critics who are quick to point out that the Chaguanas Police Station also has the most corrupt officers, Abraham said, “Yes, we feel bad, but we are not hiding anything under the carpet. “Over the last five years, about ten to 12 officers have been on corruption charges before the courts. “The reason for this is that once something comes up, we deal with it. “Other jurisdictions may have more corrupt officers but are not doing anything about it. “We want the public to have confidence in the police.”
Abraham and four of his officers got information that criminals, working from prison, wanted to kill them. “I don’t know if it had to do with the nine notorious gang leaders who were gunned down in the division this year, or the gun seizure.” He recalled the Valentine’s Day killing this year of two men shortly after they murdered Cunupia businessman Darren Shane Painter. The men, one believed to be a professional assassin with links to a drug cartel, were shot dead by police following a chase through central Trinidad.
“People try to stall you, but I am going harder than ever,” he said.
A station for Edinburgh 500
Abraham is asking for one more station in Central—to be located in Edinburgh 500. “Because of the housing development there, the acreage is almost bigger than the entire of Chaguanas. “There are more than 10,000 (mostly government) houses there. I flew over the area with a helicopter. “I wanted to broaden my knowledge base of the division to better deploy officers.”
Abraham said Edinburgh 500 needs a police station or police post. With an influx of residents who got Housing Development Corporation houses in the area over the last few years, crime had shot up. “There were a lot of break-ins and rapes. We arrested the people behind the crimes and instituted a 500 round-the-clock patrol,” he said. “In the last five months, there were two serious crimes in the area, the larceny of a motor car and a robbery.”
Residents partnering with police
Residents are breathing easier in the area and have partnered with the police in the Police Youth Club programme. Abraham said the police in Central are not only after criminals but at-risk young people as well. He said most of the youth who join the Police Youth Clubs set up in various communities in the division, however, are girls, and not the troubled ones, either. “I am asking parents to send out the boys.”
Abraham’s biggest challenge in the Central Division remains car-stealing at Price Plaza, dubbed “Little America” by some because of the cluster of American eating establishments and shops in the area. Popular local cinema chain MovieTowne has a branch there. Abraham said about six, mostly Nissan B11, 12, 13 and 14s, had been stolen from the plaza’s car park for the year so far. He said several connecting roads lead out from the plaza and more security was needed, urging patrons to be mindful of their vehicles.
And what motivates Abraham?
“I am doing something I love,” he said. And he is not trying to emulate Burroughs. “I might have some of his attributes but I am not trying to be like him.”