The national state of emergency implemented by the ruling People's Partnership government on August 21, remains in effect until December. The views of the people are varied and everywhere you turn there are opinions. But the reality is, not everyone in society is equipped with the knowledge and understanding of criminality to properly assess the situation and make unbiased, well-thought-out oral contributions.
Q&A With Renee Cummings:
T&T Guardian: What are your general thoughts as a national of T&T, on the crime situation and the measure currently being used to deal with it?
RC: As a nation we have found ourselves in a rather precarious and penalised space, where personal and public safety have been compromised on so many levels and because of so many reasons. While crackdowns on crime, coercive interventions and muscular measures often receive popular public support because of high law enforcement visibility, the research shows that such results are often temporary and tenuous.
T&T Guardian: What are your thoughts on the country's judicial system and what do you think can be done to better this arm of national security?
RC: Deterrence will only be achieved when punishment is certain, swift and severe. The police must catch the criminals, the courts must administer justice in real time and the prisons must punish and rehabilitate. What's missing, nationally, is social regulation. Deterrence must be retailed with programming that taps into an individual's internal motivation to obey the law because lawlessness has become a national pastime.
In some areas, our judicial system seems to be rising to the occasion, the coming of a drug court pilot project is a move in the right direction. Therapeutic jurisprudence, rehabilitative punishment, using the law as a therapeutic agent of change to facilitate and achieve therapeutic outcomes with offenders will reduce recidivism and the social cost of crime once the initiative is managed efficiently and effectively using a clinical rehabilitation model.
T&T Guardian: As someone who has traveled, what are some of the crime fighting initiatives you've seen used in other countries that can be used here in T&T?
RC: When it comes to crime fighting no matter how creative the ideas, the most effective interventions are based on empirical evidence anchored in solid data analysis. Our challenge, as a nation, is implementation. Our crime fighting initiatives must adopt a business model; providing maximum return on investment for taxpayer dollars.
Also required are knowledge, information and innovation to identify and disseminate best practice for adoption by all law enforcement agencies and across the criminal justice system, providing a coordinated national response, that begins with the standardisation of operating procedure; and this can only be achieved through a knowledge to practice approach anchored in scientific evidence and by using people who are qualified and who can get the job done.
T&T Guardian: From a criminologist's perspective, what are some of the things that fuel crime and how can these issues be addressed in a meaningful way?
RC: There are several questions that must be asked. What is it about community structure that produces different crime rates? Are hot spot communities more criminal or are they simply exposed to more criminogenic structural conditions? Social trends always parallel the rise or fall in crime rates. We must address the root causes of violence in our society and that begins with an understanding of the impact early exposure to violence has on the crystallisation of criminogenic personalities.
We must start with violence in the home, which leads to violence in the schools and in communities. We must also explore educational failure, economic disparity, unemployment, social isolation and stigmatisation, the ecological concentration of the disadvantaged, hyper-segregated poverty, labour markets, and government policies because they all combine to create violence, crime and criminality.
T&T Guardian: How can every citizen assist in fighting crime?
RC: We are yet to marshal citizen participation. Citizens have a critical role to play in crime control because along with law enforcement, citizens are co-producers in keeping a crime rate down. Communities must be equipped, using a citizen security approach, with the requisite resources to build up a stockpile of crime prevention skills. Communities must be empowered, residents must be mobilised in the fight against crime, and partnerships must be forged between law enforcement and the national community.
Social programming must improve neighbourhood social capital and improve pro-social and informal social controls that have eroded over time. Violence prevention correlates with collective efficacy and capacity building. Communities must be empowered with the capacity to prevent violence and protect itself. If we put the focus on youth violence, child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, alcohol and substance abuse, we may be shocked at a most significant long-term decrease in crime. You can't arrest your way out of crime problem. Government must reframe the role of citizens in the fight against crime.
T&T Guardian: Do you think there is hope-can it all be cleaned up, realistically?
RC: Misplaced assumptions surrounding perceptions of crime often create moral panic and generate some very emotional responses. To reduce crime it must be properly understood within the context of a broader range of insecurities. Government must design policies and programming to treat with all expressions of violence in our society. Hope will be realised when we stop assailing at-risk families and start assisting them in developing more protective factors as buffers to the many risks they face. What we need to do is build resiliency in communities where there is a large criminogenic cluster.
T&T Guardian: Was a national State of Emergency necessary in T&T at this time? Could something less drastic have been done to curb the crime situation?
RC: Short-term measures may yield quick reductions in the homicide rate but how will it be sustained after the State of Emergency has been lifted? You can't force a crime rate down. Short-term gains often fizzle and an over reliance on repressive actions will present a difficult challenge once the euphoric high of this politically-altered and artificial state of reduced fear is removed.
T&T Guardian: How does crime hurt a nation's economy?
RC: Crime stifles national development as it threatens the foundations of sustainable development. It also drains state resources because crime fighting is a costly venture and demands big budgets. It is a devastating cost to development because high crime deters investment.
T&T Guardian: What is your wish for T&T as a national?
RC: We must do everything in our power to encourage our youth to take constructive avenues, because if we don't they will end up on the road of crime. Young people need structured programmes that offer hope, encourage dreams and foster a belief that success is indeed possible.