No dodging our terrible murder rate
The spate of murders which began the new year—seven in two days —seems to make a mockery of the crime reduction boast made by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
This does not mean that the crime-fighting strategies instituted in recent years have not, in fact, borne fruit. It may well be that serious crimes such as assault, rape, and robberies have been reduced, even though the possibility exists that citizens are not reporting such incidents as often as they did in past years. But, even if the reduction in serious crimes is as real and substantive as the police claim, the fact remains that public unease will not be assuaged as long as ordinary citizens can be casually murdered while liming or in their homes.
Indeed, citizens are entitled to ask, if the police have been able to contain other serious crimes, why have their strategies been so ineffectual in respect of the most serious crime of all? Certainly, the ease with which criminals can access guns is a key part of the continued high homicide rate. Insofar as murders are connected to the international drug trade, it may be that the drug lords have started paying their lower level lackeys with guns as well as money. There is also evidence that some police officers have been supplementing their legal income by renting out their guns to criminals.
The latter issue can and must be dealt with by the Police Service tightening up on procedures for tracking firearms issued to officers, including random checks to detect when police guns have been discharged. This, however, will help only in a minority of cases. The main challenge is to limit the entry of firearms into the country and to seize those which are in the hands of criminals.
But such detection is not easy, and amnesty offers have limited, if any, value. It may be more effective to tackle more fundamental causes of murder—that is, try to change the incentives which make murder profitable. National Security Minister Gary Griffith is on the right track with his promise to separate gang members from Government projects, including the Unemployment Relief Fund. The police might also prevent some killings by being pro-active with respect to threats issued in property and land disputes. Effective witness protection is crucial, too, but this can only happen if trust in police officers is increased.
All of these are short- and medium-term measures, distinct from the long-term social strategies which must be implemented in order to change the mindset of the next generation. And, until the homicide rate is substantially reduced, all official boasts about crime reduction will ring hollow in the public ear.