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Criminals getting away with murder

At 12 per cent, the detection rate for murders in Trinidad and Tobago has actually doubled. But this still means that only about one in nine murderers is ever arrested, with fewer than that being convicted. Nor can the police even claim that this improvement is due to better detective work, since it may well be that the "detection" is explained solely by an increase in domestic murders, which had gone up during the three months of the 2011 State of Emergency.

Indeed, one of the main reasons proffered by the Government for the SoE was to ensure that more crimes were detected and more criminals prosecuted. That promise descended into a farce, with a mere 13 per cent of the 8,178 persons arrested during that period being convicted. And farce became further absurdity when 17 more persons were arrested for allegedly plotting the assassination of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, only to be released because of lack of evidence. Yet, to this day, the hierarchy of the Police Service insists that they had credible grounds for that gross violation of citizens' rights.

But the fiasco perhaps hinted at the problem plaguing detective work in the Police Service—the standard for credibility falls far short of what is required for an arrest, let alone for a court of law.

In the past, police spokespersons have claimed that the detection rate for homicides was only apparently low, in that many of the murderers in gang-related killings were soon killed in turn by rival gang members, leaving no one to arrest. Even so, the police are quick to state that the victims in such incidents was "known to them" and even wanted on several charges, raising the question why the said perpetrator was still at large—which brings us right back to the question of detection.

After all, this low detection rate, in itself, encourages murderers to kill with impunity. Research has shown that criminals, just like ordinary law-abiding persons, respond to incentives and make the same intuitive cost-benefit analyses before taking any particular course of action. In the case of gang-related killings and robberies turned fatal, the criminals, having few or no legal options for making quick or even slow money, know that murder is a relatively risk-free act in terms of getting caught and being sent to prison.

The rationale behind URP, CEPEP and other make-work programmes was to provide different incentives for would-be criminals. But these initiatives have clearly failed and may even have exacerbated the problem by creating spoils to kill over. Policy-makers should instead concentrate on finding ways for the police to catch criminals since, without a much better detection rate, crime will continue unabated.

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