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Police force needs strong leadership

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Ira Mathur

Twenty-four murders in two weeks. That figure will be higher by the time you read this. Many of them have been double and triple murders. Three men were shot in Erin on Sunday last week. One died from his injuries.

There have been at least 312 murders in T&T for the year so far, in addition to an undetermined number of missing people cases in which those missing are believed to have been killed.

When this happens, we the impotent people, seeing every day that people get away, that almost no one is arrested, tried, or jailed, cry impotently, “hang them high,” or long for someone to actually take charge.

So much for that.

Opposition politicians are pointing fingers at National Security Minister Edmund Dillon and the new PNM-led government blaming them for the increase in murders and its inability to deal with crime.

Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams responded by claiming that murders in this country had nothing to do with the police but was a social issue which was not being properly addressed.

I cannot agree more. I am wary of those who separate criminals from themselves and say “hang them high,” as if they don’t have anything to do with us. They have everything to do with us. Firstly, look at our education system. It has produced hundreds of thousands of functionally illiterate people who can barely read signs. Secondly, think of the fact that we now have three, now four generations of people who have been ‘working’ under make-work programmes like Cepep. The names have changed, but the fact is that successive governments pump millions into these ‘programmes’ that for some reason are put in the hands of gang leaders who call the shots. The wages for the beleaguered ‘workers’ doing ‘make work’ is disseminated by heads of gang members.

I can’t begin to imagine the hopelessness of young men, the sense that their life itself is worthless, abandoned by fathers, neglected by mothers who have children by many men. Every day they see bullet riddled brothers and friends. Nobody’s life has any worth. Especially not theirs.

Every government knows the history of the gang member. Neglected by parents, unschooled, abandoned by State and family. Guns and drugs are available in every corner in ‘depressed’ areas.

I can imagine why guns and the quick money from drugs is a magnet to neglected boys.

What if government actually had a social policy regarding young people, those with and without guns? What if, instead of Cepep centres, there were homework centres to ensure that children whose mothers were working, or whose fathers were out of the picture, had a safe place to go to be supervised. What if these social workers visited their homes and took at-risk children into care?

In March 2012, I interviewed the then commissioner of police Dwayne Gibbs and it’s worth repeating some of his observations as to why we are the tenth most murderous nation in the world. I asked him why he thought our murder rate is among the highest in the world. 

Gibbs said: “There is no single reason for homicide. Drugs play into it, but we see a lot of casual homicides. If a guy looks at someone’s girlfriend it’s enough to get him killed. It is not restricted to hot spots, but definitely homicides are driven by poverty, lack of education, growing up without parental guidance.

“We see a lot of boys on the block, bright kids, with no father around, belonging to single families where the mother is out earning a living for her children and the children are neglected. Fathers need to be around and provide a positive role model for their sons. People just need to survive. So they turn to crime.

“The murders will drop substantially when social workers come into communities to care for and support neglected children, when educational, sport and health facilities begin to rebuild communities in a tangible way, when the homeless are rehabilitated and made to feel useful again. If we work one house, one block at a time, it can happen. The most crimes are committed by the 16-35 age group.

“Between ages 15 and 18, kids start to become hardened criminals. They’ve watched their parents, friends, family involved in drugs and guns. They’ve been abused, watched their moms being abused. They learn this as they grow and adopt it. The police can’t control all the anti-social behaviours coming out of that. We all need to acknowledge that this generation needs and gets help: Parental support, parenting skills, and social service support combined with solid police force that protects, prevents crime and serves, will ultimately bring down the murder rate and save this generation.”

Meanwhile, one newspaper commentator wrote on his Facebook page.

“Every time there's a spike in crime, people start invoking the name of Randolph Burroughs, who they think was the best Police Commissioner T&T ever had because he used to go rong on de grong wit he men."

“Apart from possibly being a drug smuggler and a murderer, Burroughs was in fact the worse 20th century CoP this country ever had. During his tenure from 1976 to 1985, crime increased by 43 per cent, with burglary rates rising 30 per cent; rapes nearly doubling; and the murder rate increasing 100 per cent.”

I back acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams’ statement that murders in this country have more to do with social issues that successive governments have failed to address than we are willing to acknowledge. But that doesn’t let the police off. We need strong leadership in the police force and we need it now.


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