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Murder rate down but comfort out of reach

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan's vote of confidence in the stewardship of Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs marks a clear-cut recognition by the Government of the gains indicated by falling figures for murders.

In the Senate on Tuesday, both Mr Ramlogan and Minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday commended the commissioner. Mr Panday said there had been 30 fewer homicides so far this year as compared to the same period last year. As of yesterday, this newspaper reckoned the murder toll for 2011 to be 135, while this time last year it was 173, a difference of 38.

The decline, and the vote of confidence from Government ministers, should prove a confidence-booster for the commissioner, about whose prospects in the position Police Service Commission chairman Ramesh Deosaran had appeared to reflect so negatively. Prof Deosaran told reporters, on assuming office last month, that he intended to review the commissioner's performance so far during his tenure of seven months.

The 23 per cent drop over the murder count for the same period in 2010 is encouraging. Figures for murders solved, remain not as readily available as they should be, a deficiency that inevitably skews the big picture of police performance.

Even as he praised Commissioner Gibbs, however, Attorney General Ramlogan maintained a sense of proportion. He described the declining comparative murder toll as a "glimmer of hope'' and "a moment for quiet optimism''.

It is too soon to say whether the drop in the murder tally is the welcome and long overdue beginning of a downward trend, though the drop between 2010 and 2011 is far steeper than that between 2009 and 2010.

Certainly, the daylight killing before witnesses on a Port of Spain street on Monday (for which, two days later, no suspect had been held) qualifies as a sobering reminder of the distance still to be covered in making Trinidad and Tobago a safer place.

The Government also endorsed the "21st-century'' policing initiatives introduced a month ago by the Gibbs administration as a pilot project in western Trinidad.

Under this plan, in a radical departure from tradition, mobile police officers patrol round the clock, rather than staying based at stations. This approach is novel enough for Trinidad and Tobago to have caused some residents (and some police officers) to express doubts. Mr Panday told the Senate, however, that members of the public were now making increased numbers of calls to the police in the areas served by the scheme, which he described as a sign of confidence.

A decision on whether the project should be continued or expanded is to be made in August. Meanwhile, it certainly deserves a chance to prove itself as a pilot capable of being implemented nationwide, and should not suffer badmouthing in advance or sabotage in the execution.

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