Last update: 04-Dec-2013 12:33 pm
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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AG: Nothing’s wrong with anti-gang law
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday the problem with the Anti-Gang Act is not the law itself but its enforcement and application. In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Ramlogan said: "The police must gather the relevant evidence on gangs and the suppression of anti-gang crimes. “Any law is only as good as the police investigation. The success of any law depends on competent and proper police investigation, the gathering of criminal intelligence and the presentation of cogent evidence to justify the charge.
“I am extremely disappointed that the police, thus far, have been unable to effectively utilise this legislative tool in the fight against gang-related crime." To date only one man has been successfully prosecuted under the act which was passed in 2011. The Anti-Gang Act came to the fore again on Monday, as the majority of suspects arrested during police raids on Sunday, after six murders in 24-hours in east Port-of-Spain, were released.
Of the 90 people detained, 47 were released, 26 went to court and 17 were kept in custody. Of the 26 taken to court, 22 had outstanding warrants. However, police said yesterday most of those released could be re-arrested under the anti-gang legislation once they had gathered more information on the suspects. Yesterday, Ramlogan said by now the T&T Police Service (TTPS) should be in possession of the relevant intelligence and evidence to charge more gang leaders and members.
He said, however, he was not close-minded and remained receptive to any ideas as “I operate from the basis that there is always room for improvement in any and everything that we do."
He said the criticism of the act had perhaps missed the mark and that was underscored by the absence of any proposals, suggestions as to how it could be improved, or what was wrong with the law, which, he said, was the joint product of both the Government and the Opposition, and represented the first partnership in the making of legislation between the Government and Opposition.
The Government, he said, could not enforce any law nor could it charge or prosecute anyone. That, he added, was the function of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). "One suggestion which I have canvassed for in the past is whether we should reverse the burden of proof so that, once arrested and charged, the gang leader or member has the burden of proving that despite the prosecution's evidence, he is not, in fact, a gang leader or gang member," he said.
That proposal was not supported at the time and, he admitted, would "certainly have a rough passage" with the Independent bench in the Senate. However, he said, he intended to raise that prospect with the Opposition, adding the measure exists in some countries.
Referring to the recent attempt by Government to give soldiers the powers of arrest as policemen, Ramlogan said: "Recent events have highlighted the wisdom of the Government's proposal to confer limited police powers on specially selected members of the Defence Force when they are accompanying policemen to provide back-up and assistance." He said it was clear that measure was badly needed, as the police "clearly require this kind of reinforcement."
He said the fact that not a single gun was found on Sunday, despite "open exchange of gunfire that accompanied media interviews by senior police officers, is a grim reminder of the raw and harsh reality in terms of the ability of the police to contain and suppress gangs." Ramlogan said, in retrospect, several Opposition and Independent senators and MPs who opposed the soldier/police bill must now be reconsidering, if not regretting, their decision.
"If the Opposition is prepared to support this measure, the police/soldier bill, even if it is limited to the suppression of gangs and gang crimes, then I will consider re-introducing the measure, subject to Cabinet approval," he said. This is one of many initiatives he plans to raise at the joint meeting on crime with the Opposition, adding that he welcomed the joint discussion, "where we put the country and public interest first."
Citing the statistic given by acting CoP Stephen Williams, that within the 200-metre span that is east Port-of-Spain, there have been 138 murders over the past four years, Ramlogan said it highlighted the fact the police could not solve gang violence without additional backing and support. The Government, he said, had invested heavily in training for the police and, "it is high time the citizens reap the rewards in terms of better policing from these initiatives."
Ramlogan added that the media should also be responsible in reporting interventions by the police. He said they were often too quick to highlight "the minority voice that is orchestrated to complain about police abuse and brutality, discrimination and racial profiling and condemn the effort of the officers who risk life and limb to restore law and order.
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