High-tech, low-tech both helpful in crime fighting
The 2012-2013 budget's tax exemption to facilitate acquisition and installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras represents an investment in an anti-crime arsenal, but one that is hardly unfamiliar.
At least since preparations for the 2009 Summit of the Americas, when no expense was spared in the protection of visiting leaders the CCTV cameras became features of the T&T streetscape.
No untoward security episodes marred the Americas Summit and the later Commonwealth Heads conference. But since then, the returns on the CCTV investment have been less than loudly impressive.
Video or still footage from security cameras has not figured as evidence in criminal prosecutions, or at least not to the extent expected. The certainty that their wrongdoings will be captured, and their identities exposed, has not noticeably deterred criminals. If any reminder were needed of the real and present danger of rampant and murderous banditry, it came with last weekend's fatal shooting, during a robbery, of a Barataria restaurateur. As the Express reported, "the gunman ran out…and escaped with the undisclosed sum of cash". The police claimed to have information capable of leading to the killer's arrest. This was not reported to include camera-captured images. Officers speculated that "the gunman was most likely someone from around the area who had been monitoring the operations". Still, the record offers scant evidence that the presence of the cameras has helped deter crime when and where installed. National Security Minister Jack Warner once noted that bandits had proactively shot out some East Port of Spain cameras, thereby defeating their purpose. Moreover, the cameras presuppose security personnel being deployed to monitor the footage, and to ensure the equipment is maintained in working order—a requirement not always met.
Mr Warner has been promoting the relatively low-tech efficacy of "government boots" on the ground in Laventille. After a gang-related bloodbath in that area, he has reported (and Finance Minister Howai has repeated), no killings over the weeks that the police and soldiers have invaded that unhappy terrain.
That heavy law-enforcement presence to curtail violent crime is the way to go in Laventille is ironically confirmed by the nay-saying responses of PNM Opposition figures. Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite, rising in Parliament on Friday to deny the Government's claims to crime-fighting success, actually defined "Laventille" to include parts of Morvant, where he claimed a murder had been committed.
Certainly, at Woodbrook's Brooklyn Bar, where cameras effectively identified the culprit who planassed a doubles patron, the value of CCTV cameras has been eloquently demonstrated. That alleged attacker has since been brought to justice.
In Laventille, however, circumstances alter cases. Boots on the ground, representing the dedicated physical presence of law enforcement personnel, are apparently making a positive difference. Experience shows that crime suppression calls for both high-tech and low-tech approaches. And budgetary provisions should follow accordingly.