Saturday, February 24, 2018

Taming Tobago’s crime beast

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Mark Fraser

Warning that Tobago’s brand of “clean, green, safe and serene” may be in danger of being seriously tarnished, the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development, Joel Jack, called for a unique crime fighting response appropriate to the needs of the sister isle. Delivering his 2015 budget presentation on Monday, Mr Jack argued that the Tobago economy is even more susceptible to crime than Trinidad because of its heavy dependence on tourism which can be seriously affected not only by crime but by the very perception of crime.

Even worse than increased car thefts, burglaries, break-ins, robberies, drug trafficking and sexual offences is the finding that more and more of such crimes remain undetected. This describes a pattern, especially related to murders, that is familiar to Trinidad. But the frighteningly anti-deterrent effect of criminal impunity produces more hurtful effects in a Tobago dependent on tourism, and vulnerable to adverse international advisories.

The THA budget accordingly highlighted responses such as more sniffer dogs at the sea and airport, more CCTV cameras, more emphasis on community policing, and on tourism-oriented policing, and strengthened crime prevention. Also somehow to be corrected is the prevalent manpower shortage, a problem that afflicts Trinidad as much as it does Tobago. Manpower shortages may very well be one of the key factors responsible for low detection rates in both islands. After all, inadequate staffing sets up a cycle of organisational inefficiency that feeds on itself by destroying the morale of staff who find themselves over-burdened and unable to focus on their main areas of responsibility and competence.

Mr Jack’s anti-crime suggestions are all sensible ideas which the THA and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service should not hesitate to evaluate with a view to adopting. The point about tourism-oriented policing, in particular, is well taken given the numerous reports by tourists over the years about the heavy-handed approach by police officers who have not been trained to handle visitors.

Community policing is as needed in Tobago as it is in Trinidad and can be particularly useful in detection. An officer who is trusted and respected by the community stands a better chance of knowing the ground and of accessing information relevant to solving district crime. Tobago’s smaller size and well-knit communities offer fertile conditions for getting the most out of community policing.

One thing that Trinidad can teach Tobago is that it is never too late to make a serious intervention against crime because, left unattended, it can always get much, much worse and pick up speed and the descent into chaos.

The time is therefore now for Tobago to protect itself against the risk of having its economy unravelled by a perception that it is not a safe destination for tourists. The challenge will be to make every cent spent on fighting crime count for something.