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750 people reported missing annually in T&T

Published: 
Sunday, September 16, 2018
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Former head of the National Operations Centre Garvin Heerah

A Missing Persons Unit (MPU), with specialist investigators, is critically needed in T&T to deal with the scores of missing persons cases and to also deal with cold cases. The former head of the National Operations Centre, Commander Garvin Heerah said the unit was necessary as there was a distinct difference between kidnappings/abductions and missing persons.

According to 2015 statistics, the T&T Police Service (TTPS) investigates an average of 750 “missing persons” cases annually. It is believed that that number has significantly increased.

From January 2002 to April 2018, there have been 389 kidnapping cases for ransom reported in T&T. From January 2013 to April 2018 there were 533 cases of kidnappings reported.

Heerah said both demanded different approaches, procedures, and best practice.

Heerah, an expert in Homeland Security and Safe City Concept, said the dedicated MPU needed to be equipped with modern tools of the trade and “aligned with an international counterpart that can provide training and development in practical investigation scenarios”.

Heerah's call for an MPU comes just days after the rescue of Natalie Pollonais from the hands of abductors. Pollonais was snatched after leaving the gym at C3 Centre in south Trinidad, and under the guidance of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith she was extracted days later.

Heerah explained that missing persons investigations was not just simply about locating people you cannot find. He said even though there had been countless cases of runaways and fleeing from emotional abuse, there existed legitimate criminal links in people termed “gone missing”.

“Police do the very best they can, but let's be honest, they have to prioritize based on the escalating crime rates we have today,” he said.

Heerah strongly believes that the existence of cold cases was also posing a significant challenge to the TTPS, especially with limited specialist manpower resources.

He suggested that police investigations could be aided by families hiring private investigators who can dedicate resources to finding a missing person.

“Private investigators can start looking for a missing person as soon as you become worried, immediately in other words, whereas local law enforcement must wait until a period of time has passed before someone can be reported as actually "missing," Heerah said.

“This is unfortunate because in many cases, by policy and procedure the missing child or adult can be fatally harmed before law enforcement has the opportunity to even respond,” he added.

These types of investigations, Heerah said, demanded intense research skills and crime mapping (the re-creation of crime scenes, in the case of cold cases) that warranted specialism and best practices.

“The importance of this initiative, however, is it must be success driven and involve consistent interaction and dialogue with family.”

'The first few hours critical'

Griffith recently explained that with regards to kidnapping cases, the first few hours were critical but added that there was a greater possibility in which that person can be rescued.

Whereas with missing cases, he said it was “a bit more difficult”.

The CoP preferred not to discuss any specific amendments to the structure of the TTPS without liaising with the relevant officers and until completing research.

However, Griffith assured that the recent high technology used in the “extracting” of Pollonais, the same will be used in any other cases. He also gave the assurance that no missing person cases were closed.

“It is irrelevant as to geographical location, ethnicity and wealth…the same effort put in for Mrs Pollonais will be done for any other case to ensure that each and every person is brought back to their loved ones,” Griffith said.

“A few days ago an MP approached me about a missing person and he asked if we are going to put the same effort and we did and the police found out that the person ran away with a friend but every single person who is missing within the first 24 hours, we would do everything with our resources to ensure they are brought back to their families…No missing person report is closed until there is closure.”

Griffith revealed that soon there will be the revamping of the E999 Unit where there will be a new fleet of over 100 vehicles. He also emphasised that these vehicles will be equipped with technology. “This will work towards deterrents, rapid response, and high visibility…this unit will assist in the reducing of crime and in the taking away of the perception and fear of crime.”

Kidnappings for Ransom

2018 - 4

2017 - 6

2016 - 3

2015 - 4

2014 - 3

2013 - 3

2012 - 5

2011 - 2

2010 - 4

2009 - 6

2008 - 11

2007 - 155

2006 - 17

2005 - 58

2004 - 28

2003 - 51

2002 - 29

Kidnappings

2018 - 44 (Up to April)

2017 - 102

2016 - 75

2015 - 106

2014 - 94

2013 - 112

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