On August 21st of this year, the government of Trinidad and Tobago took the courageous decision to declare a state of emergency based upon intelligence available that a clear threat to national security existed.
We did not have a crisis because the State of Emergency gave us the means to avert one. And so one of the primary reasons for the State of Emergency has achieved, and I am confident that history will record the day on which the State of Emergency was declared, August 21st 2011, as one in which democracy and freedom were preserved and protected in our Nation. It is to the credit of the intelligence gathering resources of Trinidad and Tobago that such vital information was garnered in the first place.
I stand by the decision, as advised by the Minister of National Security, that immediate action had to be taken. And we did what we had to do. We took action as was required.
Many would concur, that the level of criminal activity had become simply….. unacceptable, at the time when we were bold enough to take such a decision.
I knew then as I do now that we would have to depend on two things, the unequivocal support of the protective services and the sacrifice of the public. Political risk was of no consequence to me since there could be nothing of greater importance than the safety and security of the people of our nation. I prayed to God to give me the wisdom to make the right decision as I consulted with the National Security Council and my Cabinet colleagues; and we unanimously decided that this was what ought to be done under such dire circumstances.
It was, for me, by no means an easy decision but it was quite frankly the only one that could have been taken under the circumstances. Always we stayed within the constitution.
The Protective Services
It has been two months and seventeen days of a most historic period in this nation’s battle against criminal elements bent on lawless executions and destruction. We waged a war unlike anything seen before and every single soldier and law enforcement officer, and policeman gave it their all.
If ever there were a doubt about the commitment of our protective services, the effort they displayed and the results recorded speak for themselves.
Trinidad and Tobago salutes them all.
You, our protective services, have taken this nation from the brink of disorder and chaos and restored law and order and ensured that our democracy remains intact.
You have wrested the control and confidence away from criminals who felt they could threaten and do what they wanted with impunity and now they are on the run and public confidence in the ability of our protective services is beginning to return. Psychologically, relieved of living in fear and from a sense of hopelessness, the state of anxiety and vulnerability felt by the public gradually went away.
Yes, I am saying the state of emergency DID have the effect of doing that.
The Nation has won
We do not claim a complete victory. There have been challenges along the way, but undoubtedly, the battle has been won to a large extent.
When gang leaders tremble in fear, we have won.
When the crime rate plummets, we have won.
When guns and ammunition are removed from the streets that could have killed one more innocent man, woman or child, we have won.
When one family can sleep better at night, we have won.
When justice prevails, we have won.
When illegal drugs are seized and destroyed and their operations shut down, we have won.
When the business community and citizens alike can join hands and make the sacrifice required by enduring the State of emergency and the limitations of the curfew all in the interest of the greater good, we have won.
The criminal elements saw a nation joining together against them, in support of thousands of our best and bravest members of the joint protective services as they fanned out across the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago and flushed out rapists, murderers, thieves, gang leaders, drug dealers, and other wanted men and women by the thousands.
At the end of it all, the weaponry, drugs and criminals that were removed in the last two and a half months had not been achieved in several years of anti-crime efforts before now.
It would be the greatest understatement to say that the State of Emergency and curfew are a success. It saved our nation. It redeemed all previous failed attempts. It has made Trinidad and Tobago safer than it has been for a very long time. And it has given us a platform for moving forward purposefully.
Statistics re: State Of Emergency
Statistics alone do not tell the story of the State of Emergency. But they help to demonstrate, in specific terms, what occurred during this period of national sacrifice for peace, law and order. And it is important to remember, that these are the things – peace, law and order, security, safety, - that we have been sacrificing for.
The statistical information tells us clearly that crime reduction, arrests made and the amount of weapons and drugs seized, the number of men and women held on outstanding warrants - the statistics tell us that we achieved success.
One month prior to declaring a State of Emergency, there were 46 homicides committed compared to the 18 for the same period following the emergency declaration and curfew, an overall reduction of just over 60%. Gang related homicides were reduced by an even higher percentage.
Measured against the same period, there was a reduction of just over 51% in serious crimes such as robbery with aggravation, house breaking and rape. The period showed a decrease of just over 73% in motor vehicle larceny. And this is of particular significance since motor vehicle larceny is considered the initial stages of a crime event cycle that leads to more serious crimes.
A comprehensive release of all statistics governing the period of the State of Emergency will be provided in due course to give the overall picture. I simply provided a snapshot of what the new trends are showing based on information by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
The failure of the political Opposition
I have heard a few political commentators suggest that there was no need for a State Of Emergency, and that the existing laws and security forces could have been used to do the same thing that was done during the state of emergency. This is absolutely wrong and patently mischievous.
It is unfortunate that we continue to be saddled by an Opposition which refuses to work with the Government in the National Interest and apparently prefers instead to snipe and mislead citizens for narrow partisan reasons, even when the truth is already in the public domain.
At a time when the Nation was crying out for a united assault on crime, the Opposition politicians failed miserably to rise to the defense of the citizenry against a marauding criminal force.
Increased numbers of security personnel
One of the most obvious advantages of the State of Emergency is that we immediately were able to dramatically increase the number of warm bodies on security duty. On any given day prior to August 21st 2011, there would be about 6146 police officers deployed in various shifts throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
On the very first day of the SOE, as we added the personnel from the various TT Regiment, the Air Guard and the Coast Guard this effective number of security personnel directly involved in crime fighting was increased by 71 percent to 10,316. And this was buttressed by machinery and equipment from several streams of law enforcement. This translates to increased numbers, frequency and visibility of patrols, raids and other policing initiatives.
There were 583 serious crimes in the two week period of August 7th – 20th2011 that is before the SOE. This fell by 43 percent in the first two weeks of the SOE. During the period October 16th to 29th 2011, the number of serious crimes had dropped by 61 percent to 230 compared to immediately before the SOE. That we have succeeded in reducing the incidence of criminal activity is indisputable.
Citizens know this means a reduction in the number of murders, rapes, wounding and shootings, kidnappings, robberies, fraud, larceny of motor vehicles, larceny of dwelling houses and narcotic offences. Not just a reduction, but a DRASTIC reduction in criminal activity.
Perhaps there are those who would have preferred that the criminals had continued their rampage that the runaway murders, rapes and robberies had continued. But this government is not here to play petty politics with the lives of every one of our citizens.
I am convinced however that the vast majority of the population would agree that the State of Emergency and the curfew were successful. I have received many letters, emails and telephone calls from citizens who have told me so. There has been an increase in the number of reliable reports of illegal activities in communities by the average citizens as citizens have joined the fight against the criminals.
There has been a demonstrated improvement in interaction between the protective services and the communities in which they operate, which directly augers well for enhanced policing after the State of Emergency.
Even if we disregard the obvious successes demonstrated by the statistics, this enhanced confidence in the protective services by the national community, this visible “taking back of the streets” by community involvement that we have witnessed during the State of Emergency is undoubtedly one of its major successes.
In addition the independence of the Judiciary remain intact, the courts remain free and open, and justice is accessible for any citizen who feels aggrieved.
We started the fight against crime as soon as we entered office. We will continue now and tomorrow to wage war against criminals and the criminal element.
We know that there is much more to be done. The fight against crime has been intensified with the introduction of a State of Emergency and curfew. But our collective fight against criminals and the criminal element does not end with the State of Emergency and the curfew.
Consultation re: State of Emergency
There were many calls prior to today that the state of emergency had served its purpose and it was time to withdraw the declaration. It weighed heavily on my mind and while I concurred with the view that the sacrifice of the public and members of the business community was great and I certainly did not wish to burden anyone one hour longer than necessary, I had to follow the strong urgings and informed views of the Minister of National Security and National Security Council in general.
I have just concluded such a meeting, the first since my return. We spent the last few hours in the National Security Council meeting reviewing the progress to date and listening to all the advice on the ground as to what was taking place regarding the various anti-crime initiatives, those past, current and planned.
We are also mindful of the myriad correspondences sent by nationals here and abroad with comments and recommendations for which I remain extremely grateful.
I am pleased to say that the discussions were very encouraging. The consensus of the National Security Council is that the State of Emergency has been successful in the following ways:
· Substantially reducing criminal activity and the incidence of serious crime, especially homicide
· Disturbing if not finally dismantling the drugs, crime, guns cycle and publicly identified some criminal leaders.
· Strengthening our intelligence gathering system and laying the foundation for rebuilding a robust intelligence gathering and deployment system.
· Establishing the basis for joint army-police framework and collaboration among agencies – Prisons, Police, Army, Customs, Immigration, Coast Guard.
· Some criminals have been charged, and cases will be brought against them.
· Our capacity to monitor criminals and criminal activity has substantially increased.
Building on these successes we proceed onward while listening to our people, taking steps to secure our Nation and having the courage to do what is in the national best interest.
Accordingly, I wish to advise that the National Security Council has recommended and the Government has agreed to remove the curfew on land, in Trinidad and Tobago. That means as of tonight the land and maritime curfew imposed on the identified crime hotspots will be lifted.
The State of Emergency will continue, and this will be reviewed on a continuous basis.
Please be very mindful that you should continue to exercise caution in all of you do, to be respectful of the law, to be always aware of your surroundings, to drive with care, and to be your neighbor’s keeper.
I am advised that the Joint Services will continue their exercises and enforce the law on transgressors of the law, however minor the infractions may be. Certain exercises to ensure we don’t slip back into the level of criminality will remain and the government reserves the right to impose limited curfews where and when necessary as advised by the Minister of National Security.
Beyond this the following initiatives will be actioned:
1. We will further strengthen the Central Intelligence Command
2. We will continue to strengthen law enforcement presence on the ground by retaining joint Army Police patrols and by precepting regimental police from the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment to support police work in the field.
3. We will expand CCTV across cities, malls, and vulnerable areas and increase the number of mobile patrols.
4. We will introduce a range of specifically targeted social and cultural initiatives to strengthen community life.
5. An employment creation intervention to generate 20,000 jobs in low income communities will begin shortly.
The sacrifices of our entire nation have not been in vain. I am moved beyond words by the measure of support from all quarters for the initiative taken, by the level of tolerance and understanding, by the willingness of those who had so much to lose in terms of business and income but who understood that unless criminals were apprehended and the society made safer, no amount of money in the world could have the meaning and purpose intended.
o to the members of the public who stayed patiently through this period,
o to the business community who endured losses of income but appreciated the gains of security and safety of their environment, to their creativity in working with the adjusted hours,
o to the religious organizations that prayed faithfully with the nation for a positive outcome,
o to the Customs and Excise Division, who played a major role in uncovering the fuel bunkering scheme,
o to the nurses, doctors, airline pilots, all members of the emergency services who had to abide by all kinds of procedures to get their job done during this period,
o to all those who were inconvenienced in one way or another,
o to the community minded citizens who came forward with information on criminal activity that helped in no small way to achieving the level of success we had,
o to the media for the level of mature responsibility displayed in a tough time for reporters even though some might have been skeptical at times about the curfew and state of emergency,
o to the judiciary for working with the limitation of hours yet having a greater workload,
o to the members of the Review Tribunal for ensuring the rights of citizens during this period were stringently protected and observed,
o to the Heads of the Protective Services and other members of the National Security Council who worked tirelessly to ensure that the operations were successful,
o and of course to the thousands of patriotic members of the joint protective services: Police, Regiment, Coast Guard, Air Guard and members of the Volunteer Defence Force, who made us all proud by their selfless sacrifice and produced the results we acknowledge today,
o to each and every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, I offer, on behalf of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, my deep, abiding gratitude.
Curfew is over effective immediately on Trinidad and Tobago soil.
The State of Emergency remains under continuous review.
May God continue to bless us all.
May God Bless our Nation