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Crackdown on criminal gangs

Deosaran: Legislation alone not enough
Published: 
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Violence must be eradicated in schools
Criminologist Prof Ramesh Deosaran

The latest initiative by the Government to rid the country of criminal elements is the Gang Bill and the Bail (Amendment) Bill which was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on April 1. Already grappling with a crime rate that continues to rise at an alarming rate, the Government has moved full speed ahead to stamp out gang-related activities, even making parents accountable. The bills were hailed by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan as “revolutionary.” He said parents would be made accountable for criminal activities committed by their children and parents who “harbour” and “conceal” gang members would face the consequences.

According to statistics supplied by the police, there were between 80 and 110 gangs operating in Trinidad with an average membership of 15 people. However, some gangs could be as large as 100 people. In a country where gang violence has even permeated the school system, how effective would legislation be? Will legislation be effective enough to prevent notorious gang leaders from recruiting vulnerable young people, most of them school dropouts?

According to prominent criminologist Professor Ramesh Deosaran—the new chairman of the Police Service Commission—legislation alone was not enough. Deosaran spoke in an interview before he was named as the new chairman of the commission. While he hailed the Government for doing its part, Deosaran said there was a “huge gap,” as already existing legislation was not being implemented. “The Government is doing it’s duty, but there are other agencies, like the police and the probation officers, who have failed and that’s the missing gap,” he said.

“It is not the legislation...It is holding those who are accountable responsible—who are responsible for enforcing the legislation.” He said to eradicate violence in schools, gang activities must be eradicated altogether. “As long as there is a multiplicity of gangs on the streets and in the schools and neighbourhoods, they will serve as magnets for school violence,” Deosaran said, adding that as long as the school environment remained “toxic,” students would be vulnerable to that “toxicity.” “We have to deal with gangs in the schools and in the wider public and therefore we must deal with their mode of operation,” he said. “While it is a good intention to rehabilitate young people, they, however, must be subjected to tough love.”

Accountability in schools

Deosaran, who identified strict discipline and accountability as the building blocks to prevent the spread of violence in schools, said it should be made mandatory for parents to answer to school principals. He said a few years ago, a study titled A Social Justice Mode was conducted on some 60 schools throughout the country. One of the recommendations, he recalled, was that if a student was found guilty of engaging in violence, that student should be judged by a “jury of peers.” “Bring that student in front of the classroom before a jury comprising fellow students and let them determine what punishment should be meted out,” Deosaran said. “This will also serve as a deterrent to other students because there is nothing in the life of an adolescent more powerful than peer pressure.”

He also called for greater accountability on the part of school safety officers, claiming they were “not working as intended.” “There must be an entire rejuvenation process,” he said. “The ministry appointed school safety officers in some 100 secondary schools and recently they have not been working as intended... Some are not properly trained and some are staying away from the job. “This must be seriously addressed.” 

‘Boys’ Towns’

It was said by former education minister Clive Pantin, according to Deosaran, that only a “handful of boys were giving trouble” in the nation’s schools. The solution, Deosaran said, was to establish “Boys’ Towns” in five different districts across the country. “It will mean taking the students who are really violent out of the school system and placing them in these Boys’ Towns,” he said. “This will be a special environment which will facilitate positive attitudes and create health social and academic aspirations.” He said he also conducted a study on gangs along the East-West Corridor which was commissioned by then president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Jennifer Baptiste-Primus.

Deosaran said recommendations were also made for 20 empowerment centres to house young boys who had drifted into gangs. The centres, he said, were to be run in collaboration with the private sector, the Government and unions. “Everyone will get involved in this kind of partnership...The boys will then be filtered into meaningful jobs beyond Cepep and URP,” Deosaran said. “It will be an alternative for a more meaningful life where sustainable employment will be offered.”

Suspension not the answer

Principals, who suspend troublemakers at schools, were playing right into their hands. Suspension, Deosaran pointed out, created a “more dangerous situation” as it facilitated further indiscipline. “Suspension is definitely not the answer...It will only create a more dangerous situation because that is exactly what the indisciplined student wants—more free time,” he said. “Take them out and put them in a more controlled environment like the Boys’ Towns,” Deosaran maintained.

He said although religious instruction was being taught in schools, this also offered no solution. “There is no better teacher than example,” he said. Religion will not help...We need proper role models—teachers, parents, priests and politicians.”

‘Law enforcement inefficient’

Describing gangs as a demographic, economic and social problem, Deosaran said it must be tackled from the “ground up.” “And certainly it will not be efficiently tackled from just sitting at Police Administration Building and implementing plans that always get aborted because they never work on local soil,” Deosaran said. He said each community was different, and gangs in T&T had grown so prevalent and unrelenting that it was no longer a case of “one gang here and another there.

“Gangs have evolved...We have descended into a culture of violence and that makes it even more frightening,” Deosaran said. “So it has to be rooted out at the school level before we sink deeper into the violence and despair. “I hope it doesn’t grow because that would damage the very core of civility.”

Gang-related murders on the decline—Ewatski

The continued presence of police officers in crime “hot spots” has led to a decrease in gang-related homicides, according to Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of Operations Jack Ewatski. “Our presence in East Port-of-Spain and Laventille is certainly contributing to that reduction,” he said. Expressing concern about school violence, Ewatski said “any type violence is disturbing,” including incidents involving children. According to statistics provided by the Police Service’s Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (Capa), between 2001 and 2010, the Port-of-Spain Division recorded the highest figures, with the largest number of gang related murders—116—recorded in 2008.

Remove disruptive students—TTUTA

Echoing Deosaran’s recommendations to remove disruptive students from the nation’s schools, Roustan Job, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), said problem students should be placed in “special schools.” Job said these institutions should be implemented with “special criteria” to meet the needs of students bent on displaying violent behaviour. He said “a lot has already been done,” but he questioned the effectiveness of such measures. “Many times what happens in the communities affect the youths and this could be played out in the school environment,” Job noted.

Job said the majority of students were “well behaved” and only a handful of students created chaos in the school system. “It seems that violent incidents usually take place at certain times of the year, like around Carnival and when the students are leaving because they know they don’t have to return,” he said. The TTUTA president called for specific measures to be applied to address school violence, including management of gender, behaviour modification, dealing with violent students and school violence and legal education pertaining to students.

more info

What is a gang?

A gang is a group of three or more individuals who band together for criminal or anti-social behaviour.

Type of gang members

Gangs typically have three components:

• Leaders

• Hard core members (most violent members)

• Marginal members (often referred to as “wannabes.”) These members drift in and out of the gang according to their needs.

How gangs display their unity and identity

• Use of jewelry

• Selected coloured clothing

• Jargon and signals

• Members remain together in quiet times as well as in conflict

The main source of income for most gangs

• Narcotics—Members of all ages are used by the gang in the illegal sale of narcotics

• Extortion

• Robberies

more info

Gang-related murders 2001-2010

2001   3

2002   17

2003   42

2004   32

2005    81

2006   98

2007    207

2008   278

2009   179

2010    75

Source: Crime and Problem Analysis Branch, T&T Police Service

Why children join gangs

• Recognition

• Acceptance

• Power

• Money

• A substitute family

• Respect

• Security

• Protection

Source: T&T Police Service

DATA ON MURDERS AND GANG RELATED MURDERS FOR THE YEARS 2001 - 2010