At 25 years old, Nikoli Edwards has achieved a lot.
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Gangs shifting to legitimate business
Two main criminal gangs are responsible for the rash of killings, extortion and robberies across the country, says head of the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit Supt Kenrick Edwards. In a candid interview from an undisclosed location with the T&T Guardian on Friday, Edwards identified the two entities as the Muslim Gang and Rasta City Gang, which he said had many sub-units scattered across the country. In some communities, graffiti bearing the gangs’ territory is clearly defined.
Edwards said his intelligence officers, who operate from a secret location due to the sensitivity of the operation, are seeing a shifting in pattern of operation from some gang members, with some of them now investing their ill-gotten gains to set up legitimate businesses, such as real estate companies and car dealerships, as they seek to launder dirty drug money. Of the 149 murders so far this year, police have labelled the majority of them gang-related.
Edwards said although the two gangs are in existence and there are clearly defined leaders, their sub-units each have their own leaders who, if need be, carry out orders on behalf of the leader of their umbrella gang. He said the gangs, operating covertly, use three main methods to acquire their wealth—drug trafficking, corrupting public officials and violence against the public, through activities like theft, kidnapping and extortion.
Edwards said the gang culture operates like an isosceles triangle, with the small head dealing mostly in drugs and drug trafficking. At the bottom there are the prison gangs and the street gangs. It is at these levels that most of the bloodshed occurs. He said at this level, the gangs are “less organised” than the leaders atop the triangle, but the members still maintain some level of order.
In an attempt to curb the gang culture, Edwards said the unit uses every resource available to them, including the Interception of Communication Act which allows police to monitor telephone conversations. He refused to disclose the capabilities of his unit, but maintained it was well equipped to carry out the necessary surveillance of gang members.
Edwards said he has noticed a trend in recent times where victims are being dismembered by gang members. Most murders are committed with firearms which are bought at a high price, he said. One 9 mm handgun without any ammunition could cost as much as $15,000, while the cost of a more sophisticated assault weapon could cost close to $50,000. The gangsters, he said, are well financed or otherwise well trusted and some get their artillery on consignment.
Edwards said 75 per cent of the gangs operate along the East West corridor and there are five criminal gangs operating out of Tobago. He added that in the Caribbean, gangs are known by their geographical location, so while a gang may be named after the street they operate on, they may also fall under one of the two overarching main gangs. As for the cause of all the gang-related killings, Edwards said it was simple economics; they are trying to increase their profit margin.