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Suppressing statistics won’t stop crime
Notwithstanding his later, hurried attempt at damage control, Minister of National Security Jack Warner stands indicted by his original statement on Tuesday that he had decided with immediate effect that no crime statistics were to be made public.
Mr Warner’s statement of Tuesday was a serious threat to democracy and raises serious questions about his judgment. He overstepped the boundaries of his ministerial role and powers in announcing that he was going to “instruct” the police not to give out crime figures. As acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and others soon made clear, the minister has the power to do no such thing.
Indeed, Mr Williams went so far as to say that he had received no such instructions, which raises questions about Mr Warner’s claim that he had issued them. Mr Warner’s desire to suppress the statistics is also tantamount to an admission that he is not able to bring crime under control.
Faced with such an incapacity, rather than seeking a new strategy and redoubling his efforts, the minister chose to seek to violate the constitutionally-enshrined right of the population to know and the responsibility of the Ministry of National Security and the Police Service to communicate vital information on the state of crime to the public.
In conditions where violent crime is rampant and people need information to protect themselves from becoming victims of crime, this Minister of National Security unilaterally decided that citizens and residents should not be made aware that crime is raging in their areas.
For over a decade now, general elections have been fought on the issue of crime. Governments have been held to account and found wanting when they failed to stem the tide of violence. Ministers of national security have come and gone on the basis of their inability to deal with crime. Most of the population would list crime as the single largest problem facing the country.
Yet Mr Warner dismissed the concerns of the entire country, the public’s right to know, and the constitutionally-enshrined freedom of the press, apparently for the sake of his own reputation. He sought to downplay this action by suggesting the information in question was merely material the Opposition could use to make mischief.
He could offer no reasoned argument as to why suppressing the crime statistics should lead to a reduction in crime, saying feebly, “That is my feeling.” Mr Warner himself crowed triumphantly when the murders in Laventille came to a temporary halt, counting off the murder-free days. Now that they have resumed, he has changed his tune, deciding that the way to deal with crime is to sweep it under the carpet.
Once again, too, Mr Warner is seeking to shoot the messenger, shifting blame on to the media—that is the logical conclusion of his justification that: “The intent of this measure is to seek to ensure that crime statistics are not sensationalised.” Mr Warner’s characterisation of the most recent killing in Laventille as a “PNM murder” is political gamesmanship taken to the extreme.
It contradicts his own argument, made practically in the same breath, that “crime is the responsibility of everyone.” Mr Warner cannot have it both ways. If it is acceptable for him to blame the political opposition, then he too must expect to be blamed, should he fail to carry out his mandate to reduce crime and ensure the safety of the nation.
On all counts, Mr Warner’s move backfired. The people of Trinidad and Tobago are tolerant to a fault, but they treasure their democracy and their freedom of expression, and this high-handed and misguided edict immediately earned their wrath. On this occasion, Mr Warner was made to listen to the voice of the people.
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