Four years ago, Dr Keith Rowley, then opposition leader, predicted the downfall of the People’s Partnership (PP) government due to its inability to get crime under control. Rowley also conceded then that spiralling crime had led to the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) losing the 2010 general election.
During a meeting at the Port-of-Spain City Hall on January 6, 2014, as he offered himself to lead the PNM and the party for re-election, Rowley appealed to the public not to be hoodwinked by the PP’s attempt to lessen the severity of the increased crime rate by blaming warring gangs for the runaway murders.
For the first six days of 2014—under the PP's watch—16 murders had been recorded to which Rowley said, "I can't recall any time in this country, a bloodbath taking place like this week."
Rowley entered office on a promise to reduce crime and eradicate corruption in September 2015.
The month of April 2019—three-and-a-half years into the PNM's new term in office—was declared the bloodiest month ever in the history of T&T when 49 people were killed in just 30 days.
Criminologist Darius Figueira claimed,"April exploded into a bloodbath."
During the period September 2010 to present, some $58 billion was spent by both the People's Partnership and the PNM to fight crime.
In the PNM's 2015 manifesto titled "Let’s Do This Together," the PNM described T&T as a nation in crisis.
They stated that "After five years, crime remains the most serious problem affecting our citizens today, closely followed by corruption, which has now reached previously unimagined levels."
They accused the UNC-led regime of failing to serve the people—"They have only served themselves and their financiers," the party stated.
Examining the previous administration's record on crime, the PNM claimed "Violent crime is out of control, while white-collar crime, especially money laundering, bribery, corruption and theft from the people’s purse, has reached epidemic levels. The murder total has exceeded 400 for the last two years and there has been no reduction in the murder rate for this year with over 250 murders in the first seven months of 2015."
Under the UNC-led regime, the PNM stated, T&T has been determined by the United Nations to be "the tenth most homicidal and violent country in the world, with more murders per capita than Iraq".
In the PNM’s 2015/2016 Budget presentation titled "Restoring Confidence and Rebuilding Trust: Let Us Do This Together," Finance Minister Colm Imbert acknowledged that a reduction in crime represented the foremost demand by the citizenry.
He said then that "Violent crime and criminality have hampered our economic progress. Our institutions have been weakened. Our citizens have become disillusioned and our business sector has developed an unhealthy malaise with respect to new investments and confidence in the economy."
There, however, continues to be runaway crime in T&T; Citizens are living in fear and on the edge and are calling on the Prime Minister to honour his promise and get crime under control.
In its 2016 manifesto, the PNM accused the UNC-led government of being an "Abject failure at controlling crime and ensuring the security of our citizens."
They attributed this failure to the PP government's decision to dismantle the national security apparatus put in place by the PNM during its previous term in office and withholding support for already established initiatives. The PNM promised that if elected, they would adopt a "Whole-of-government approach to national security. All ministries and agencies will thus share responsibility and be accountable for the security and safety of the State."
1. Taking legislation to Parliament to amend the procedure relating to the permanent appointment of a Police Commissioner and his deputies (Achieved)
2. Establish a joint Border Protection Agency that will manage the security and integrity of T&T’s borders
3. Develop a Disaster Risk Management Policy for T&T (Achieved)
4. Utilising the Citizens’ Security Programme, Police Youth Clubs and Cadet Force to reduce youth criminality (Achieved)
5. Establish a Police Service Inspectorate
6. Improving scientific investigation strategies and pursuing ISO certification of the Forensic Science Centre
7. Partner with the Judiciary to re-engineer the structure and improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system
8. Establish a Prison Management Policy
9. Adopt an intelligence-led approach to national security (Achieved)
10. Develop an adaptable defence and security posture
Online statistics of murders for the years 2010 to 2018
2010 - 485
2011 - 354
2012 - 383
2013 - 408
2014 - 403
2015 - 420
2016 - 463
2017 - 494
2018 - 516
Rowley’s quotes on crime in opposition
Jan 6, 2014—"I can't recall any time in this country, a bloodbath taking place like this week."—referring to the 16 murders during the first six days of 2014 as he offered himself to lead the PNM at a meeting at the POS City Hall.
Jan 27, 2014—"People said they are beginning to lose faith that we could ever pull it back. We give the assurance we will put our hands to the tiller and steer the ship of T&T. We in the Opposition are taking steps to understand the problem and prepare responses."—speaking at an Arima Town Hall Meeting.
Oct 26, 2014—"The criminal element has too much room to manoeuvre.”—promising to roll back crime as he accused those in office of being less than honest with the population about the real story behind crime during the PNM Convention at the Hyatt Regency.
PM's quote on crime in government
Oct 6, 2015—"This Budget has as its largest allocation, national security. That is driven by the chronic and rampant criminal conduct in Trinidad and Tobago. We get the pain of the crimes and we have to pay the largest amount of our earnings on trying to treat crime. That is the dollarising of crime in T&T. This should let the population know, if ever we did not know before, that crime is having a serious effect on the population of T&T."—speaks about National Security receiving the largest budgetary allocation in the 2015/2016 budget.
Nov 25, 2016—"It is now pretty normal in Trinidad and Tobago to wake up every morning and be greeted the first item of news that somebody has killed somebody and on many occasions, somebody has been killed by the police.” - speaking at the formal hand over of the St Joseph Police Station.
Nov 25, 2016—"Every family that loses an individual either to a criminal act or to the police in an act of self-defence is now exposed to pain, anguish, and long-suffering and that is what our country is right now."—speaking at the formal hand over of the St Joseph Police Station.
Nov 25, 2016—"I am particularly disturbed and sometimes bordering on depression that the Government that I lead is being held, quite correctly, for the ineffective security of the State that exists now."—speaking at the formal hand over of the St Joseph Police Station.
Nov 25, 2016—"At the end of the day, it is not the teachers, it is not the priests, it is not the doctors who will be required to respond to the unacceptable level of criminal conduct in Trinidad and Tobago. It is first and foremost the police service and of course the wider national security apparatus."— speaking at the formal hand over of the St Joseph Police Station.
Dec 19, 2016 - “The one thing we cannot do is to allow impse to believe that they have control of any street or any quarter in this country and that the State recognises that. The police cannot accept that and the Government will not accept it.” - speaking at the formal hand over of the new Besson Street Police Station.
Jan 28, 2017 —"The loss of life through violent and unlawful means is wholly unacceptable."—referring to the numerous murders around that time.
December 6, 2017—"Nobody in this country, nobody, not man, not women, not child could present an argument to us in Trinidad and Tobago, a convincing argument that we do not have a serious crime problem. We can apportion blame and reasons, that is academic, but also nobody could advance an argument that is believable that we do not—across Trinidad and Tobago, we are learning—have a serious crime problem rooted largely in the gang culture."— contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill.
December 6, 2017—"We have always had a certain element of criminal conduct in our country over the decades, but in recent times, the last 15 years or so, with the coming of the drug trade, the level of criminal conduct in Trinidad and Tobago has exploded and has remained intractable."—contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill.
December 6, 2017—"I did not hear any argument from the other side that we do not have gangs. I did not hear anyone from the other side arguing that the gangs are not destroying the quality of life and threatening the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. I did not hear anyone on the other side say that, so I take it that they are in agreement with those of us on this side that we do have the gangs that we had mentioned, whether it is 2,000 or 2,500, or whatever it is; we have a lot, too many."—contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill.
December 6, 2017—"Let us not pretend that this is a national problem, and for those of you who feel 'is a PNM problem in PNM strongholds', you are wasting your thought. This is a national problem, from Cedros to Toco, from Buccoo to Carenage."—contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill.
December 6, 2017—"You have friends, you have mothers, you have sisters, you have communities. You are MPs, you represent 29,000 people. And you want to allow crime to flourish to campaign in 2020? I do not believe it, but that is what it is. I implore you tonight, put that aside, let us come together in the fight against crime."—contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill.
July 12, 2018—"We are not considering that at this time, we do not see it as an effective way of changing what is happening. A state of emergency will not necessarily give us the security that we are looking for. There'll be negative developments on the economy and that would in itself create the environment for further growth of criminal conduct."—denies Government is considering a State of Emergency during a post-Cabinet briefing.
May 4, 2019—"There was a time when violent gun crimes were incidents which occurred only in certain parts of the country. Over the last decade, with the inflow and availability of firearms throughout this small country and the free movement of criminals in all our communities, no place is beyond the incidents and no community is immune to the effects of this national plague."— communicated via text regarding the May 3 killings at Carenage.
May 4, 2019—"This diet of violence and lots of angry people mean that the job of law enforcement is getting no easier and the pain and trauma constantly remind us of our own vulnerabilities."—communicated via text regarding the May 3 killings at Carenage.
Asked to provide expert insight into the current crime wave affecting T&T, criminologist Renee Cummings said perpetrators and potential perpetrators are exploiting the low detection rate which has been exceptionally low for over a decade.
She said, "The detection rate reflects the brand identity of a law enforcement agency. The business of law enforcement is the retailing of deterrence.
"However, the message being sent is one of impunity. The police must deliver a real time, best practice, homicide-reduction strategy; augmented with a coordinated, comprehensive, data-driven, national violence prevention strategy; community-driven and sustainable."
Pressed to say why successive administrations seemed not to be able to get a handle on crime, she responded, "The approach has never been scientific, multi-disciplinary, multi-systemic, evidence-based, trauma-informed, victim-centered and best practice.
"Homicide reduction must be a national priority. Gunfire is now a familiar refrain in communities. Interventions must be designed to address inter-generational trauma; multi-generational rage, free-floating anger, anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in families, communities, classrooms, and workplaces.
"Gun violence trauma often turns into mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. Children exposed to violence, crime, and abuse are more likely to engage in criminal activity and we are living that reality."
Asked to offer recommendations on what more could be done, Cummings said:
•Time to bring scientific integrity to policing.
•Enhanced dialogue, engagement, communication and trust between the police and communities are also required. •There must be a strong focus on community collaboration in crime prevention.
•Promote innovation, design evidence-based programmes, adopt and implement scientifically rigorous and actionable crime and violence prevention strategies that also focus on desistance, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.
Figueira: Crime politicised in T&T
Also offering his thoughts on the matter, criminologist Daurius Figueira said, "In T&T, crime is politicised where a specific race is profiled as criminal and criminogenic and the rest are victims of this race. Politicised crime and the victimology of this politics is a voter mobilisation instrument in general elections. All actions taken by ruling politicians are framed by politics, what is politically profitable, what is a political liability and what is politically impossible. This is the prime reality."
Figueira added, "The only way interventions framed and launched by politicians and members of the huge, costly national security apparatus will impact crime, especially gun violence, is if these interventions are the product of an understanding of reality on the ground.
"It is not what you want reality to be, not what you say reality is. It is what reality on the ground tells you it is and the only way you will learn this reality is to be organic to it, to be one with it."
Figueira was critical of current interventions as he said, "The interventions have all failed to date because there are filters that remove blocks of reality on the ground as it filters upwards to the persons wielding state power.
"This creates what they say is reality on the ground, but this is their reality and all the interventions they devise are their interventions, not what reality on the ground demands.
"They are constructed to fail, expensive failures in blood, carnage and destroyed lives and families. Because of this systemic failure, the ground sets the agenda and the state agencies react perpetually playing catch up with the ground. There is no pro-action by the state agencies…only reaction and they speak the language of reaction and failure as the use of crime suppression."
Figueira said the murder toll from the first decade of the 21st century to present was the most potent indication of reaction, which he described as "A holding action rather than pro-action, where it is apparent that the ground and factors on the ground continue to drive the murder toll, not state intervention."
He said the ongoing ganja wars in T&T since its escalation in the first decade of the 21st century to this day and its impact on the murder toll was a lesson in politics.
Figueira added, "Clearly, the ganja wars are the product of prohibition of the plant, as it has failed to restrict demand as demand has exploded but supply is lagging behind. The solution to end the ganja wars and immediately decrease the murder toll is to legalise the plant. That is what the reality on the ground says."