In response to the sudden upsurge in murders and robberies in the last week or so the ag Commissioner of Police is reported as having responded that from a "policing perspective" the police are doing all they can do. In another report the chairman of the Police Service Commission is quoted as affirming that all the measures implemented to deal with crime over the last few years have failed. So if the police are doing all they can and yet all the efforts have failed what are we as a country to expect?
The obvious answer is that there will be no change and crime will spiral.
This however is not a fair analysis of the current crime situation. First of all, it is not unusual to have sudden spurts in murders during a short period. Many will recall headlines of the recent past such as "Seven murders in 24 hours" or reports of a series of rapes or robberies in one area in quick succession.
The number of murders is usually a good indicator of the rise in crime and after a peak around 2008-2009 of about 550 murders, the number decreased by over 25 per cent from that time to last year. In the last few years therefore it is a fact that serious crimes have decreased. Many will recall that just a couple of months ago it was reported that there had been no murders in one of the hotspots — Laventille — for several days. This was rather unusual and we took it in stride. Now of course that things appear the other way and there have been some rather gruesome/high profile murders, one of a police sergeant during the course of carrying out his duties, everyone is reeling and declaring himself/herself as feeling unsafe or under the gun.
I do not agree that all efforts to control crime have failed. If that were so the murder rate would have continued to rise from 2008 onward. It did not. Furthermore the authorities were able to keep a lid on kidnappings for ransom which had peaked in or about 2006 and had resulted in some murders of victims. Subsequently there was a virtual end to kidnappings for ransom.
Whether this was because various members of kidnapping gangs were caught and charged and several extradited to the US is an interesting question. The fact is that the Anti-Kidnapping Squad did some good work and together with the threat of extradition for kidnapping an American citizen there was a positive impact in curbing that crime. Add to this the amended Bail Act which denied bail almost automatically for two months to persons charged with kidnapping for ransom and we can glean that all efforts were made to significantly control this crime.
In contrast, while it is true that we cannot hope to eradicate crime one must question why with all the resources that have been expended on controlling serious crimes in the last decade murders and robberies are still being committed in unacceptable numbers. One school of thought is that crime gangs are proliferating and the Anti-Gang Act has not been of any use in reducing their numbers. The latter is true since there have been few prosecutions under this act but in any event it could not have been expected that this law alone could have curbed gang warfare.
There are many other measures that one would have expected to have borne fruit: the DNA law and the implementation of CCTV cameras, for example. These are however more relevant at the detection stage after the crime has been committed. They are also long term measures in the sense that should they result in a greater detection rate – more that the current 25 per cent or so for serious crimes – then this will ultimately have a deterrent effect on potential criminals.
Meanwhile, what more immediate solutions can be found? One matter that has been raised many times is the question of more police patrols. Citizens keep insisting that there is never a police officer around when you need one. That is a clear exaggeration as evidenced by the several instances when one hears of police officers responding to reports and actually apprehending suspects in or around the scene of a crime. The tragic case of Sgt Manwaring is but one example. Here was an officer on other police business who responded to a wireless report and in doing so was shot and killed.
It is a fact however that we can do with some more patrols although I daresay the police can claim that they do not have sufficient strength. What is enough strength? How many police officers do we need for a population of 1.3 million?
There is no fixed answer to that but one thing is certain: in many aspects the police manpower resources are not properly utilised. Take for instance the case of a soldier and his girlfriend who were charged with indecent behaviour in a public place under section 52 (2) of the Summary Offences Act.
Apparently the two were engaging in consensual sex in a parked vehicle at about 6 p.m. on "Fantastic Friday" off the Lady Young Road. Now even if a vigilant police officer was on patrol to prevent crime (such as rape) at that time in that place, having determined that the couple were engaging in consensual sex, should he not have exercised his discretion and simply let them off? Where is the real criminality?
Those are the kind of police actions which result in embarrassing persons more than curbing crime that will undermine them in the eyes of the public and lead to them not being taken seriously. Some persons will even resent such intrusive "detection" and this will not redound to the greater crime control and detection that the authorities espouse. Let us focus on dealing with real crime.
* Dana S Seetahal is a former Independent Senator