Friday, February 23, 2018

Towards a crime policy for T&T

 One ought to expect much, given the current Minister of National Security’s background. Answering a question in the Senate recently, he quoted statistics which seemed to point to a reduction in serious crime under this administration.  Current statistics for 2014 clearly demonstrate that to be a misplaced view. Two state witnesses, Ricaldo Sanchez and Stacy Roopan, were murdered within three weeks of each other. Police explanations, vacuous at best, were downright silly in explaining the second murder. The year-to-date murder figure is a clear indicator that any recent improvement has been illusory, or at best temporary. 

The focus has been on the failings of the Police Service. But this is an inadequate view. In opening the current law term the Chief Justice declared the criminal justice system to be in crisis: “Not the Judiciary, not the DPP, not the police — the whole system”.

Neither the Chairman of the National Security Council, the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Security, nor the Attorney General, has given even a scintilla of evidence that a holistic approach is being attempted, or that radical corrective surgery is anticipated, or even contemplated. The Police Commissioner remains in limbo, an actor who must be revalidated every six months. The initiatives that have been identified — the Bail Bill, the Rapid Response team, the National Operations Centre (which incidentally, despite Minister Griffith’s comments, has been operational since 2009) — are piecemeal and political “grand charge”.

Our failure to adequately address the issues is a failure to think clearly and evaluate the evidence. Clarence Rambharat, in an article published on February 4, identified three issues: lower numbers for indictments, the low number of criminal trials completed and the lower conviction rate.  

The statistics he quoted are alarming and point to continuous failure. He noted that of the 2,200 murders committed between 2006 and 2012 there were only 187 indictments and in 2012 only eight murder trials were completed. In addition, data for the five-year period 2009-2013 show there were 21,553 robberies reported and 1,832 arrests. Between 2009 and 2013, for 20,658 reports of burglaries and break-ins, only 2,182 arrests were made. 

Rambharat did not indicate the percentage of the cases that were successfully completed. But the evidence clearly points to low detection and conviction rates. Rambharat reports: “…but even with lower numbers the Chief Justice says if ten judges were assigned to deal exclusively with murder trials for five years, those cases already before the High Court will not be disposed of.” 

The drug bust in Virginia  (amongst others) confirms that we are a transshipment point. Yet despite the seizures, we are unable to net any “big fish”. Nor do we have a single successful indictment and conviction for money laundering despite the clear evidence that it exists. 

On the basis of the foregoing, there is no crime plan that can solve the issues and we must stop pretending that there is some short-term crime fix. There is none! And enacting new law will fix nothing. The problem is not the absence of law, but the failure to enforce the law. 

What are we to do then? 

First, our institutions must be fixed. Twenty-first century policing was not an idle rant but an institutional necessity. Giving the police more sophisticated hardware in the form of weapons et al will achieve nothing if the initiative is not supported by a culture of professionalism, efficiency, and sophisticated intelligence-gathering. This requires change at many levels, especially in the Second Division which is yet to face up to its responsibility to become more than a labour union rooted in a 19th century outlook. Leadership will be required both in and out of the Police Service. We may again have to face the reality that we may need to look externally, even if such a thought offends.

Secondly, the office of the DPP must be strengthened. At the moment the DPP only has the power to advise. There may well be circumstances where a more direct approach is required.   

Thirdly, the criminal justice system must be improved, made more “intelligent” and the trial process simplified. 

Fourthly, the intelligence services have to be improved and strengthened. 

Fifthly, we must follow the money. Serious crime, including drug trafficking is undertaken for financial gain. Clearly we have not been looking in the right places, or perhaps we have not been looking enough. 

The list is neither new nor exhaustive and the devil is in the details. In the short run, there may be a need to increase manpower levels. The evidence suggests that the issue has nothing to do with manpower, but with inadequate management, leadership and systems. But we must start somewhere and calibrate the measures to the exigencies of the circumstances. 

Above all we must commit to the process and not be tempted to go for the quick fix. 

We have seen “Hoops For Life”, we have heard Bill Braxton and we have had a state of emergency. All incurred significant costs with insignificant results. The changes require both visibility and credibility. But most importantly, the initiatives must survive changes between administrations. 

* Mariano Browne is a 

management consultant and a 

former government minister.