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‘Covert operations to dismantle 211 gangs’

Published: 
Sunday, June 10, 2018

Gangs and gang wars are on the rise in T&T. Statistics reveal that in 2017 there were 211 gangs in T&T—an increase from 172 in 2016 and 92 in 2014. Gang-related murders totalled 998 between 2010 and 2017, while the number of guns seized in gang-related activities in T&T stands at 4,674 (as of 2017)—with some 1,195 firearms seized in 2016 alone. And the numbers of gangs and guns in their hands keep growing.

The Sunday Guardian was informed by a source in the Ministry of National Security that a “secret document” containing the names of gangs, gang members, and respective addresses/locations of the people and gangs in the country up to this time, is currently in the possession of Minister Edmund Dillon and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams.

But what exactly is being done to deal with gangs and gang warfare in T&T?

Contacted yesterday, Williams said he could not divulge what the T&T Police Service was doing with respect to dealing with gangs, neither divulge if they actually have any information with respect to who the gang leaders and members are, but he assured that they are “doing key things” to address gangs.

Former national security minister Gary Griffith said what is needed to dismantle these gangs is a Covert Operational Unit (COU) in the Police Service. The COU allows for officers to go “undercover deep in the underworld” using an assumed identity for the purpose of gathering or confirming confidential information.

Griffith said during his tenure with the People’s Partnership government he implemented a COU. However, that was short-lived since he was removed from office and the unit has since been disbanded.

Speaking with the Sunday Guardian, Griffith explained that when the unit was in operation he received critical information, such as names and identities of key figures in gangs in T&T.

Griffith said the officers were also able to pinpoint police officers who were affiliated with certain gangs. He said they received information about planned “hits” and gangs being given state contracts under certain names. He said it was through this initiative that they realised over 35 murders were linked to the defunct Life Sport Programme, which was under the Ministry of Sports.

The then minister, Anil Roberts had tendered his resignation in 2014 in the wake of several allegations of corruption arising from the programme.

“Unfortunately, when I was removed as minister the unit was dismantled,” Griffith said.

Griffith said he strongly believes that the present hierarchy in the TTPS does not understand how to use technology and covert operations to “ascertain and pinpoint gangs getting state contracts...It shows the inability of the hierarchy of the Police Service to use these types of systems to shut down the gangs.”

The distribution of state contracts was identified as a main contributor to the fuelling of gangs and its operations.

“All gang members who have an affiliation with anyone who has state contracts, those contracts need to be pulled and it is not being done,” Griffith said.

He explained that the “more contracts” being given to these gangs will fund the gangs allowing them to “get bolder…they are going to get more profit, purchase more sophisticated weapons, they will hire more gang members, they will bribe more people, they will get more state contracts and look to kill other gang members who have contacts to get their contracts, and it will have a domino effect.”

Responding to calls for a COU, Williams said, “I don’t know what they mean by a Covert Operational Unit...well, you would not want me to comment whether we have undercover cops deep in the underworld...you don’t expect me to comment on something like that. I wouldn’t speak on that.

“Matters dealing with gangs are something that we cannot be commenting on. What we do is not available to the public because if it becomes available it will reach the gang leaders and members, but we would be doing key things and are doing key things to address the gangs.”

Dismantling gangs is a long-term project—Figueira

Criminologist Daurius Figueira, meanwhile, said that in order to effectively police gangs “you have to penetrate these gangs using various methods to dismantle them.”

He said the Anti-Gang Bill gives the police a wide range of powers, but will only allow arrests and may not give way to acquiring that needed evidence to prosecute and get people to testify.

“Evidence gathering and getting people to testify could only come if you penetrate the organisations (referring to the various gangs) and it takes time. It is a long-term project,” Figueira said.

“Now, with the Anti-Gang Bill police will only be arresting and charging them, loading up the Remand Yard which turns into gangland, which we already have. The Muslims and Rasta City gangs started in the Remand Yard and it’s now out and that is the problem,” he added.

Figueira questioned whether the TTPS has the means, personnel, and resources to dismantle gangs in T&T.

The public must assist in taking them down—Heerah

Commander Garvin Heerah, former head of the National Operations Centre (NOC), said that the prevailing threat facing T&T is the emerging structure and existence of organised crime and organised criminal activity.

Heerah said with this comes recruitment and ‘links’ in key positions, agencies, and public offices.

“Very visible in society today is the cross-fertilisation of militancy and criminality. These criminal organisations have leadership and command and control. Someone, some figure, somewhere gives instructions and with military precision, they are carried out, more so executed.

“They have their own judge, jury, and executioner.”

Heerah said criminal organisations can include small operations with a handful of individuals who are involved in selling drugs and committing petty crimes. It can also include large-scale organisations that participate in criminal activities as well as legal activities, often combining legal and unlawful activities to help legitimise their organisation and hide the illicit activities.

“In some cases, these organised groups/gangs are linked with foreign counterparts who are facilitating support services and resources,” Heerah said.

Identifying the two types of gangs—the street gangs or the common ones and the white-collar ones, Heerah described both gangs as “intelligent organisations, far more intelligent than the average person or police officer thinks. It requires a particular skills-set to take them down that includes encouraging members of the public to assist safely when they can.

“I would argue that successful prevention of gang violence requires change in attitudes, social norms, governmental policies, and social infrastructures. Every member of the society should take responsibility for preventing gang violence. The initiative has to be inter-ministerial in its bearing,” Heerah said.

Criminologist and Academic Head Caribbean Institute for Security and Public Safety Ian Ramdhanie said one of the biggest political mistakes of the late, former prime minister Patrick Manning was to refer to gang leaders as community leaders. Ramdhanie said Manning tried ‘reverse psychology’ to empower them to see if it could bring about positive change, but it backfired in his face.

He said this practice should be criminalised immediately and any government authority that gives contracts to gang leaders should be dealt with severely by the law, “develop new law with this provision.”

“Just as for citizens who need a certificate of character from the police to get certain jobs for example, so too should all persons who are vying for government contracts be required to get one including gang leaders, gang members, associates, etc. A strong message needs to be sent. They should also be required to get financial clearance from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) or some other financial regulator, for example,” he added.

With respect to known gangs by state authorities, Ramdhanie suggested that these should be on a blacklist when it comes to government contracts.

He said private and international companies who tender for government contracts and use leaders and members of gangs on these contracts should be debarred.

Ramdhanie said a list of these known gangs should be published and be on a website so people will know not to do business with them.

“We should not make gangs feel accepted into mainstream society...They should not benefit from our wealth. They should be in jail, not working for us while other legitimate organisations lose out,” he said.

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