Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Grim reminder of our crime challenge

AS if trampling all over the Government's announcement of its latest “All Out War on Crime”, an ex-prisoner walked in on two active members of the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service at a bar in Gasparillo late Saturday evening. He pointed a gun at one of them. That officer bravely knocked the hand with the gun away, and his colleague tried talking the assailant out of his murderous intentions. Instead, he was shot in the leg, and died hours later at hospital.

Prisons Officer Richard Sandy died hours before celebrating his 47th birthday. He is the latest in a growing line of members of the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service to have died at the hands of criminals targeting them.

The president of the Prison Officers' Association Ceron Richards says more than a dozen such officers have been killed in similar fashion, just in the last decade.

This latest outrage could well be seen as a dose of action-inducing smelling salts to the authorities in the unveiling of the latest proposed assault on crime. In this newspaper on Sunday, we reported exclusively, the Government's plans to involve, one more time, civic groups, religious bodies and the local government apparatus, in this latest “war”.

Sadly ironic, this signal from those bent on mayhem and anarchy has been sent via the life of a member of one branch of the country's national security services. This is the arm of the service charged with the safe-keeping of those who are ordered to be held against their will, because of convictions before our courts.

Whatever the major elements of the new proposed National Crime Prevention Plan, the purported brain-child of Government MP Glenda Jennings-Smith, Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Saturday night's killing must mean something in the way of urgency towards this fresh action.

Rightly outraged over the incident, the Prison Officers' Association president's grief was palpable in his words of condemnation against those in government, past and present, whom he accused of failing to address the increasing sense of insecurity among his membership.

“How much more can prisons officers take?” was his tear-filled remonstration. And in a hint as clear as day, he said if those officers were to walk off the job in response, he felt an obligation to stand with them.

“This situation cannot continue,” he would later declare. After the spectacularly-staged breakout of the Port of Spain Prison in July 2015, in which one police officer was shot and killed, the authorities had promised, among other things, the issuance of jammers aimed at disrupting suspected crime plots in which persons behind bars have been involved.

Such a development may not have prevented the latest killing of a Prisons Officer. But it would have been seen as one sign that members of the service are being listened to in their demands for more attention to be paid to their safety and security.

With time for action having long passed this administration's anti-crime plans, and with another version now being hinted at, those responsible must be seen to have taken Saturday night's murder for the serious emergency that it is.