PNM Senator Faris Al Rawi yesterday congratulated National Security Minister Gary Griffith “on a very excellent initiative”— the establishment of a National Security Special Operations Group, to deal with gang-related activity, among other things.
In response to a question in the Senate, Griffith said six persons had been charged under the Anti-Gang Act between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013, National Security Minister Gary Griffith revealed yesterday.
The Act, which makes membership in a gang unlawful, was proclaimed in August, 15 2011. Noting that the six persons were currently before the courts, the Minister said the success of the Anti-Gang legislation depended not on the number of arrests, but in the role of the legislation in dismantling gangs.
The Minister said some initiatives of SAUTT (which were founded by the PNM and disbanded by this administration) were of value in dealing with gang activities, “which I am actually looking at and I am dealing with this to make it policy”.
Saying that he was not prepared to throw out the baby with the bath water, Griffith said: “Rather than have a special task force (such as SAUTT), what we are having now is a National Security Special Operations Group”, a highly trained and specialised group which could deal with hostage negotiation, counter-terrorist activities and gang warfare. Griffith said this was necessary because Government was aware there were concerns that there might be certain elements in the Police Service who may be on the take at certain stations where when you get a tip-off they (the criminal element) are already aware of what has happened...I lived it in my 15 years with the military where when we about to make a raid with the police.”
He added, “So we are putting a type of operation unit to ensure that there would be no breach in security as well as building back confidence and trust in the same Police Service to weed out those rogue elements in the Police Service so we can not have the problem where certain stations are being controlled and manipulated by individuals in gangs.”
He said the unit will comprise several different arms of law enforcement: Army, Coast Guard, Immigration, Customs, the Police Service, Prisons, etc. “This is not a covert unit and I think this was the concern with SAUTT...where you didn’t know what they were doing. This is not a clandestine unit, this is not a Flying Squad. This is something that is very open and transparent ...but will deal with the concept of major criminal activities ... in the 21st century,” he said.
Asked by PNM Senator, Faris Al Rawi who the unit would be reporting to, Griffith said the individuals would be report to the CoP and the Chief of Defence Staff only. He also said the officers would receive some training with SAS in the US.
Asked by Al Rawi whether there would be any statutory or constitutional clothing for this unit, Griffith it would not be different to the joint police and army control or the IATF (Inter-agency Task Force). He stressed however that the unit was approved at the National Security Council and the Cabinet. He said it was needed to ensure that there would be no breach between intelligence and operation and that there is no breach in confidentiality.
Griffith said the Government was also hoping to use plea-bargaining to go after the big fish. He said the other important measure was for Government not to negotiate with criminal elements by giving them labels such as “criminal leaders” and by ensuring that they receive no Government contracts.
Griffith said Government had also reactivated the security cooperation agreement with Venezuela and Colombia, which provides information on the illegal entry of drugs.
Other initiatives to deal with gang violence included the establishment of the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit in March, 2012; the Community Renewal Initiative launched in 2012 which targets areas vulnerable to gun and gang violence; the “Hearts and Mind” Programme through the Police Service Inter-Agency Task Force which continues to service the people of east Port of Spain; Operation Hope for the Communities of Laventille, Beetham and Sea Lots and the establishment of the Duncan Street Facility, which became operational in February 2014. He said over the last five years over 150 murders occurred on Nelson, Duncan, Piccadilly, Mango Rose and St Paul Streets.