In an attempt to assuage a nation besieged by a wave of bloody killings and robberies, Minister of National Security Stuart Young provided no new measures to combat almost out-of-control gang warfare but encouraged citizens to call a tip line to get illegal guns off the streets.
Young called a rare Sunday afternoon press conference after summoning the heads of law enforcement groups to an emergency meeting to discuss the dire state of crime in the country.
The meeting followed a bloody week in which at least 24 people in different parts of the country were killed, most of them in gang violence.
Several of the shooting incidents took place at public places and rattled citizens going about their normal routine.
The number of people killed this year is near 300 and if the current trend continues it would surpass the record high of 550 in 2008.
In a bold Sunday Guardian Media editorial headlined: “The Breaking Point,” the media group called on the Government to stem the crime wave.
The editorial, which painted a grim picture of how violent crime had destroyed children, families, and entire communities, called on the Government and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to take decisive action to fight crime and restore public trust in the police and criminal justice system.
Rowley did not attend the news conference and did not respond to Guardian Media’s queries for a reaction to the editorial.
Late last night, the Office of the Prime Minister announced Young was replaced as Communications Minister by former Laventille East MP Donna Cox.
The editorial had suggested a radical proposal to reduce Young’s portfolio so that he can focus on the crime crisis.
Instead, Young showed up with Assistant Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde and Chief of Defence Staff Air Commodore Darryl Daniel. At least three major business groups supported the stance taken by Guardian Media, calling for an aggressive response to crime.
“This is a time when a measured response is not going to deliver the results that are necessary, we need to take decisive action, the Government needs to show its unwavering commitment to dealing with crime,” said Gabriel Faria, CEO of the T&T Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest business lobby groups in the country. (See Page A5)
Young offered a litany of the initiatives the Government had launched to fight crime but did not provide any details of their success.
The National Security Minister said there was no consideration given to the implementation of a state of emergency or curfews in specific criminal hotspots across the country.
“We are not there, we are not looking at that. As I discussed several times with the heads of security last week, there are still a number of initiatives that we have to put in place before we reach that level.
“To me, a State of Emergency is throwing your hands up in the air and saying there is nothing left. And we’re not there,” he said. The Minister, however, said the Defence Force would play a part in supporting the TTPS in anti-crime efforts,” Young said.
He, however, encouraged citizens to provide information anonymously so that police can get more guns off the street.
“We’re not asking you at this stage, although if you can we’d appreciate if you do to come forward and give evidence,” Young said. The only new initiative announced by Young was the ramping up of the use of CrimeStoppers, an initiative by business groups, to pay anonymous tipsters for illegal guns.
The organisation has been offering $20,000 for a successful tip, double its usual amount this year thanks to a 20th-anniversary celebration of the group. Young said the Government will fund this initiative.
He confirmed that he did speak with Dr Rowley, the chairman of the National Security Council, before meeting, for the second time within the space of three days, with the country’s national security heads yesterday.
He skirted questions on a Special Branch report which identified seven gang leaders who had benefited from $6m in contracts from two PNM-controlled regional corporations, saying that he did not have that information.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has openly criticised State agencies for helping to fund criminal gangs saying it was jeopardising the Police Service’s efforts to dismantle them.
The Minister admitted that he was extremely concerned about an “unacceptable upsurge in levels of crime” but could say little publicly what measures security forces were taking to get a grip on the alarming state of the crime of the country, citing the fear that the criminal elements would stay one step ahead of law enforcement efforts.
Young said the leaking of information to criminals was a real concern and it “shocked me and it was upsetting to me that some of what we discussed on a Friday meeting ended up” in a Sunday Guardian report.
“We can’t get into operational discussions and discussions with the specifics of our operations but it seems that elements within, so the enemy within is our worst enemy,” said Young, who even said that a Special Branch report on gang leaders getting State contracts appeared to have reached Guardian Media before it got to his desk.
Young identified illegal guns, our porous borders and gangs as the three main drivers of crime in the country and announced that Cabinet had approved $2.8m to improve the radar system.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde said over 100 people were arrested between Friday and Sunday and seized 25 illegal firearms.
Among them were seven reputed gang leaders, however, previous arrests of these individuals had seen them released as soon as the statute for detention without a criminal charge had lapsed.
The Assistant Commissioner, however, gave an assurance that this time, they would get cases to stick against these individuals.
“The TTPS gives you that assurance that we will be arresting people en masse for gang activities in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
“We have to be a step ahead of them. We have been conducting extensive and exhausting inquiries towards bringing an end to their gang activity in Trinidad and Tobago. We have several gang units within our country that are pursuing active inquiries,” said Forde.
“We have been seeking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions who has been guiding us and in the not too distant future, you will be seeing arrests. We have had arrests, we have put persons before the court, we have other persons who are going for arrests but we cannot arrest them because of the sensitive nature of their inquiries and because of what they are sharing we cannot arrest them,” Forde said.