Of the 91 murders for 2013 so far, statistics provided by the Police Service's Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA) show only eight have been solved.This represented a detection rate of less than ten per cent.Detection, says Dana Seetahal, SC, means that someone has been arrested and charged for a crime. It doesn't mean the culprit has been found guilty in court.
Despite repeated initiatives, there is still public dissatisfaction over the ability of the police to arrest criminals and solve crimes. Last Friday, T&T Guardian's columnist Gillian Lucky and director of the Police Complaints Authority wrote that the crime situation had mushroomed and the successive political administrations had failed to build on the workable crime-fighting initiatives of the previous one.
"For the past five years, I have been tracking the crime statistics that deal with the reporting and detection of serious and violent crimes and, over that period, the figures show that the average detection rate moved from a dismal 24 per cent to an abysmal 14 per cent."Obviously, there is insufficient resort to scientific means to detect criminals and the bandits are way ahead," Lucky wrote.
Former minister in the Ministry of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds said the country continued to experience an abysmal detection rate. The problem was multi-faceted, and in his view the major obstacle is untrained police.Hinds accused the Police Service of being "stingy" and "skimpy" when it came to spending money to send officers abroad for training.
"The Police Service is skimping in terms of investment and training of its personnel, especially the training needed to increase the detection rate," he said. "Some years ago officers used to contaminate the very crime scenes they had to investigate because they were not properly trained in gathering evidence.
"We now have the Crime Scene Investigations Unit because officers have been trained to carefully comb a crime scene and properly gather evidence. But the detection rate is still very low."Another factor in the increasingly low detection rate, he says, is the disbanding of the Special Anti-Crime Unit (Sautt), which gathered intelligence on gangs, murder suspects and organised crime.
Lucky, who also lauded the efforts of Sautt, said the organisation focused on best practices in investigations and the use of technology to detect the identity of criminals.The sale of the controversial blimp, which was bought for US$15 million and later sold for US$50,000 under the People's Partnership government, also dealt a severe blow to the police being able to arrest criminals, Hinds said.
"The blimp had a real psychological effect on criminals," he said."They knew someone was always watching and listening to them. But with that gone, the floodgate has been opened."He described the country's coastal areas as a "low fence," as the Government has not made any effort to fix the 360-degree coastal radar system. It was set up at strategic points along the coast to monitor vessels moving in and out of T&T waters, but several points along the coast are now blind spots.
When former Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner assumed the role of National Security Minister in July last year, he promised the radar system would be fixed, but this is yet to be done.
Witness protection programme
A key element in solving crime depended heavily on the testimony of eyewitnesses, but the country's witness protection programme, Hinds said, also left much to be desired.In November 2011, then minister of justice Herbert Volney said the ministry intended to upgrade the physical infrastructure of the programme.
Speaking in Parliament, Volney said: "Twenty-five million dollars is being expended to keep witnesses alive in the witness protection plan. In the last months, we have seen 117 cases involving victims and their families. Witnesses and their families have to be protected. They don't have physical infrastructure to deal with that. We are putting in place a measure dealing with the next generation."
Under the Justice Protection Act, offences which may give rise to protection under the programme include murder, manslaughter, possession or use of firearms and ammunition, aggravated assault, shooting or wounding, armed robbery and arson.When Volney was fired in September, Tobago-born attorney Christlyn Moore took up the mantle of Justice Minister.What has Moore done to improve the programme?"Nothing. She is a newbie with an attitude," Hinds said.
And in the same breath, Hinds accused society of being "treacherous," saying citizens who deliberately turned a blind eye were just as guilty."Citizens in T&T are very deceitful, deceptive and suddenly everybody is afraid to give evidence and do not want to help the police," he said.President of the Police Service Social and Welfare Association acting Insp Anand Ramesar also urged the Government to revamp the programme to make it more effective.
"Witnesses coming forward to give evidence still remains a challenge...Accessing the programme still remains problematic as there is a lot of red tape to encounter," he added.In addition, he said, the public was generally reluctant to step forward to give evidence, especially in murder cases, because they were afraid for their lives.
"If it is a case involving the police, everybody wants to be a witness but outside of that, if a murder happens in Laventille, for instance, it is extremely difficult to get witnesses," Ramesar said."Hence the reason why we have such a high number of unsolved murders. People pretend not to see."
Crime Gang Intelligence Unit exposed
With the recent directive given by Prime Minister Kamal Persad-Bissessar for more police to be out on the streets, the Crime Gang Intelligence Unit, which played a key part in arrests, has been compromised, Ramesar said.He said the association was looking into claims, as recent as last week, from members of the unit that they had been mandated to be out on patrol, a move Ramesar said had put them in a dangerous position.
"We have got several complaints from the officers, who said they are now exposed to criminals, especially in very high-risk areas where they gather information," he said."This unit has been gathering intelligence on murders, gang-related crimes and other serious crimes–and now it seems this has all gone down the drain and it is only obvious this move would not lead to any arrests."He said there were too many people in the police who did not have a clue about policing but were giving orders.
Forensic centre running like a grocery
The longer it takes for a body to be brought to the Forensic Science Centre in St James, the higher the chances of evidence being tampered with or lost and therefore the less likely it is that the case will be solved, said pathologist Dr Valery Alexandrov.
Alexandrov, who has worked extensively in the US, Europe and the Middle East, said he had never encountered a forensic facility anywhere else which opened at 9 am and closed at 4 pm. International forensic centres, he said, opened 24 hours a day so that the bodies could be processed and the autopsies done immediately.
As it is, he said: "The latest we would receive a body at the Forensic Science Centre would be 3 pm. We cannot store bodies, because our two fridges are filled with unidentified bodies."When the centre is closed, in the interim the bodies are kept at the Port-of-Spain and San Fernando General hospitals and the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope–and between that time when the bodies leave those places and finally come to the centre, a number of things could happen," Alexandrov said.
He recommended that a National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is used in the US, should be implemented. The system narrows down the search by using physical characteristics or other specific information about the person, such as dental records.In T&T an autopsy can only be done once the body is identified by relatives. Even for the body to be examined by a pathologist for identification marks such as scars and tattoos, family members must identify it.
Alexandrov said at present there were 15 unidentified bodies at the centre."We cannot touch them because no one has stepped forward to identify them. If the law was different and we could have done autopsies on non-identified bodies, that would have also helped solve many cases."
Detection rate could be better
Training, especially in the field of technology, is a top priority of the Police Service, said Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of crime Mervyn Richardson.He admitted he was not satisfied with the current detection rate."But we have been doing things to bring it down," he said."We have sent away officers for training, we are using more and more technology, we are using DNA, we are using CCTV cameras and our intelligence gathering is becoming better."
Appealing for the public's co-operation in solving crimes, Richardson agreed the Police Service still encountered the problem of witnesses refusing to come forward."We don't get the public support in that area...Witnesses and in some cases the victims are not willing to come forward due to fear of reprisal," he said."If people are not willing to come forward we will not have a good detection rate."Asked if he was satisfied with the performance of his charges, Richardson said there was always room for improvement.
"I am not happy with the detection rate, it is a challenge. But we are seeing a greater effort by all of our officers," he said.Richardson said it would be difficult to compare T&T's detection rate with other countries because each country had a different population figure.
Box: Detection rate in other countries
Alexandrov said the UK, with a population of about 60 million people, had a murder detection rate of close to 75 per cent.In the US, with a population of 312 million, there was a detection rate of close to 72 per cent.