Saturday, February 17, 2018

The myth of the 'action man'

Seven months ago, he was appointed Minister of National Security by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who then endorsed him as a "man of action" who "would make a difference" in the fight against crime.

Last year ended with 352 murders, according to police statistics, and for 2013 so far, there have been 68 killings in 52 days.

"Action Jack", as he was called following his June 21, 2012 appointment because of his perceived track record for getting things done, now presides over an escalating crime situation that already has begun to affect the country's revenue significantly, according to the Prime Minister.

Persad-Bissessar told a Caricom security meeting in Haiti last Monday that crime was costing Trinidad and Tobago more than $200 million a year in tourism revenue.

Warner has admitted that the reason he did not attend the security meeting with the Prime Minister was because crime was not under control. According to him, "I wanted to stay here to keep my finger and my pulse on the crime."

He was at the time visiting the home of slain police officer Sgt Hayden Manwaring in Couva on Wednesday.

Manwaring was shot with his own gun during a confrontation with a robbery suspect on Cipero Street in San Fernando last Tuesday afternoon while his partner, PC Nicholas Phillip, was also shot during the incident.

As he has promised on numerous occasions since assuming office, Warner told the media on Wednesday that he would "bring this state of mayhem to an end...", predicting "police and law enforcement agencies in the country shall overcome".

Persad-Bissessar's announcement in Haiti may not have been a direct criticism of Warner since she had expressed full confidence in Warner's ability to "be the best crime-buster" during her last Cabinet reshuffle in which she fired his predecessor, former Brigadier John Sandy, who despite his military background, some felt, had failed to make any significant dent in the crime situation.

During her address at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's at that time, Persad-Bissessar told the country: "Our priority is on crime; it is my respectful view that Mr Warner is a person of action, and he will be very useful in the Ministry of National Security and, indeed, as I said, I listened to many persons in coming to conclusions in making decisions, and so based on conversations I had with various persons, both against the Government and for the Government, we were able to ask Mr Warner to serve in that position."

Sandy, like former People's National Movement (PNM) minister of National Security Martin Joseph, had come under sustained criticism for failing to stem the crime wave in the country.

Warner told the Chamber of Commerce last July that he had given himself a six-month deadline to be held accountable for making a reduction in crime.

At a breakfast meeting at its Westmoorings headquarters, Warner told the business sector, "If in a year—no—make that if in six months, you call me back and there is no marked decrease in crime, then you can hold me accountable."

At that meeting, he warned the Chamber not to "believe that there is any Superman to solve crime. No demigod…no miracle man that would come walking through the desert like Moses and wave his staff, and zap! Everything is okay. That can't happen!"

He said eradicating crime was everybody's business, and there was no such thing as Warner's crime plan. He also promised to hold meetings with former National Security ministers and with all stakeholders, including the Chief Justice. Whether these meetings took place is not known.

The Express was unable to reach chamber president Andrew Sabga yesterday for a comment on Warner's performance to date.

One month following Warner's appointment, Cabinet approved $289.6 million to boost the ministry's continued fight against crime.

At a post-Cabinet meeting at the Diplomatic Centre on August 17, Warner said the money would be used to hire more manpower, modernise the response technology and enhance the police fleet of vehicles. He said $60 million would be spent on the full-time establishment of 5,000 special reserve police (SRP) and $5.1 million to establish police community support group officers throughout the nine divisions of the country.

He added that $164.5 million was to be used to acquire new technology to detect crime and improve the E999 rapid-response system while another $300 million was targeted to purchase 300 vehicles. He had also promised that his new crime plan was "in the works", adding, "Let me advise you once again, that you shall feel the effects of the plan; when the plan is implemented, it shall be swift, it shall be surgical, it shall be clinical, and this country shall begin a new era of safety."

One of the actions Warner took in his crime fight was to place a ban on crime information coming out of police stations. In October 2012, the Express reported that Warner told reporters during a lunch break of the budget debate in Parliament, "With immediate effect, I have decided that no figures of any kind would be given anywhere for any absence of murders."

He said it was felt that if the media stopped reporting crime, this could lead to a reduction in the crime rate. Crime statistics, however, are still available to the media.

Warner also disclosed that part of his crime plan featured "close to 100" initiatives, which included the Hoop for Life and a job fair at the St Paul Street Community Centre in October.

He had also indicated last July that a Tobago-specific crime plan was in the works to deal with crime against tourists, but the Express could find no evidence this was in fact done.