Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cops to target gangs murder toll climbs

LAW ENFORCEMENT officials are turning to one of the best weapons in their arsenal to curtail a resurgence of gang-related homicides which have been linked to the 13 of the 21 murders committed so far this year.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson, the man in charge of the anti-crime portfolio in the Police Service, confirmed that police officers attached to the Criminal Intelligence and Anti-Gang Unit were actively pursuing investigations against known gang leaders and their members across the country.

"We are going back to the Anti-Gang legislation full scale again," Richardson said in a telephone interview yesterday, admitting that it was one of their best weapons in the fight against crime.

He said the Police Service was using the provisions of the Act to stem the number gang-related homicides which has created a renewed sense of unease among citizens.

During the State of Emergency, between August to December 2011, police officers arrested over 450 men, all of whom were identified as being members of known criminal gangs across the country, but the cases against 236 of the suspects were discontinued by Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard SC on the basis that there was not a shred of evidence to support the charges brought against them.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Gaspard said that the Anti-Gang legislation "is workable" although "it could be improved" but noted that it was possible "to successfully prosecute a person on the existing legislation once law enforcement authorities properly gather the necessary evidence".

He said there has been a misconception in the minds of some that he (Gaspard) was of the view that the Anti-Gang legislation was fundamentally flawed. Gaspard referred to the fact that there were pending cases against persons arrested during the State of Emergency under the same legislation to support his point.

"What may have been fundamentally flawed was the police approach (in arresting the suspects without the necessary evidence)," Gaspard said.

Gaspard also confirmed a meeting he held with National Security Minister Jack Warner, acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, DCP Richardson, head of the Anti-Gang Unit and other officials on November 21, last year, at the Ministry of National Security, Port of Spain where the issue of using the provisions of the Anti-Gang legislation was discussed.

One of the issues raised at that meeting was how the State can use the provision of the anti-gang legislation to go against alleged gang members and it was raised that police officers were reluctant to investigate and bring cases against alleged gang members because the DPP wanted evidence of such a high standard that the officers were not able to supply.

Richardson, when questioned on the police approach this time around, given the failure on the part of police investigators during the State of Emergency, said yesterday, "We are going there again...I don't know how it will end".

But Gaspard said once police officers adhere to the requirements under the Act and meet the threshold of evidence he will have no problem approving the charges, however, he warned that if they fail to meet the evidential burden, he will have no choice but to drop the charges.

Earlier this month, pressure group Fixin T&T, wrote to the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and the Director of the Police Complaints Authority Gillian Lucky, and other international human rights bodies, calling for a "thorough investigation" into the failed gang arrests during the State of Emergency, where over 448 suspects arrested under the Anti-Gang Act were subsequently released, 213 without being charged.