There has been much public debate on the topic of giving soldiers the same rights as police officers. Those supporting the bill before Parliament claim soldiers are needed to boost the numbers of police officers in the fight against crime.
They claim we should respond to crime with force. But by adding soldiers to the crime fight, are we just trying to put a plaster on a sore? Are we looking for a quick-fix solution where there is none? Isn't crime a symptom, and not a cause of a much larger problem in society?
There is no disagreement among the population that crime is a serious issue. Many of us have even been affected on a personal level or know someone who has. It surely deserves our utmost attention. In the late 1990s, we had about 100 murders a year. In 2013 we are on track to cross the 400 mark. Although below the record 546 murders in 2008, this is still a 400 per cent increase.
Our crime situation is even getting the attention of foreign media. Foreign Policy magazine, the New York Times, the Guardian and the Economist, have all written articles highlighting the rising crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago. So what is the solution, and are our policymakers serious about addressing this issue?
I believe we are taking an approach that is too high-handed and too short-sighted. What we need is a people-centred approach that will ensure crime becomes a distant prospect for the next generation.
No one is asking the most important question of all, how did we get like this? We should be examining the reasons why our young people are joining gangs and committing crime in the first place. Is it a breakdown in family structure, and the support systems that go along with it? What happened to the old saying that, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Have we thrown that out, and do we even know our neighbours anymore?
The gang leaders are outspending parents in a bid to recruit more young men. They are providing the material possessions working parents can't, like the brand new sneakers. They are trying to change the mentality of young people to embrace the mantra of get rich or die trying. They are telling young people crime is the way to get what you want in life.
We need to address this issue head-on. We must stigmatise gang leaders. They are not community leaders, they do nothing for society, and they are surely not good role models. What is needed is good role models for our young people to emulate.
Instead of putting soldiers on the streets to fight crime, what our government should be looking at, is the softer approach of mentorship programmes.
Mentorship is needed for our secondary school pupils, particularly those at our at-risk schools, so that they do not get involved in criminal activity. Countries across the world are increasingly using mentorship programmes to help fight crime.
A recent study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab has found that counselling and mentoring actually work . For those students participating in mentorship and counselling, the study found a significant decline in those arrested for violent crime.
More motivational speakers should also be included in the line-up to fight crime. This measure would not even cost the government anything, as I'm sure there are enough successful people who care about the future of our country, and who will be willing to volunteer an hour of their time every week, to talk to young people.
Combine mentorship, motivational speakers and after school activities, focusing on the arts, sports and extra lessons for homework help, then surely we can stop young people from joining gangs.
Our founding father, Dr Eric Williams, once said, "The future of this nation lies in the school bags of our children." If we as a nation truly subscribe to this, well then surely it is time to give mentorship a chance. Our country has so much potential, and if we all come together, and do our part, then surely we can take back our country from the criminal elements.