Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s shocking statement that it could take as many as six years to get the results of ballistic testing on the bullets that killed teenager Naomi Nelson and two others in Carenage last month indicates that the Forensic Science Centre is in greater crisis than already known.
We completely share the Commissioner’s view that this is an unacceptable state of affairs which demands urgent address. While the operations of the Forensic Science Centre are known to be afflicted by resource shortages of every kind, the idea that a ballistics test could take more than half a decade goes beyond the pale of even that routine dysfunction. While Governments complain about other players that contribute to the staggering delays in the justice system, they remain silent about their own failures to ensure that the country is served by an efficient and effective forensics institution with the integrity to play its critical part in ensuring justice. All parents would share the pain of David Nelson, father of 14-year-old Naomi who is reported to have gone weak at the Commissioner’s estimate that it might take six years to identify the bullet that killed her. With the hope for justice from the system ebbing out of his frame, he could only hold fast to his faith in divine justice. For someone like him, the justice system might as well not exist.
These failures belong squarely at the feet of governments past and present who have not prioritised justice. Had the problems been addressed decades ago, Trinidad and Tobago would not be in the current state of insecurity. And yet, despite all the evidence that soaring crime, social siege and the high costs of overburdened prisons are the symptoms of the failure to prioritise public security every government seems content to pursue strategies that deliver little, if any, dividends.
According to Commissioner Griffith, it takes about three days to get the results of a ballistics test in New York. Compare that with the six-year estimate he gave in the case of the recent Carenage killings. There could be no greater description of the state of under-development of this country.
Once again we must make the point about the failures of governments to focus their energies on qualitative objectives which improve the population’s quality of life in such areas as security, justice, health, education, social support, transport and so on. The sting in the preference for pursuing quantitative goals is that when the country enters a period of economic depression, the gap in the quality of life between those with their own money to pay for services and those who depend on the state to provide them becomes stark with potentially painful and even dangerous consequences, especially for the middle class. When individual income is down and employment opportunities decrease, people should at least be able to rely on state-supplied services that cushion the impact of having to live with less. For Naomi Nelson, that would have meant a safer community and for her father, justice for the killing of a daughter.