THE crime and security issue at Oropune Gardens is a classic case of how small, manageable problems mushroom into major problems which become so huge that they overwhelm even the Police Service.
The Housing Development Corporation (HDC), which is the State agency responsible for the housing development, misses the point when it advises residents to take their crime problems to the police. While the agency is correct to assert that it cannot be held solely responsible for all of Oropune Gardens’ issues, it must be held responsible for its own failures which have contributed to the residents’ security problems. The residents’ point is that the HDC’s failure to police and uphold the terms of its own contracts with occupants of its housing development has created fertile conditions for criminals to take root and grow to the point of taking control of the area. This is how hotspots are created, when those with the first responsibility fail to nip a problem in the bud.
Why is it so difficult for the HDC to enforce its own rules against illegal occupancy of its buildings and the establishment of unauthorised businesses in its housing development? If the HDC had taken action against the first illegal act the situation would not have developed to the point where residents are today living with murder and gun-toting criminals in their midst. It is clear from the fear expressed by many residents who were too scared to be identified when speaking with this newspaper that criminals are gaining the upper-hand against this relatively new community. Not everyone is as courageous as Colleen Holder, a resident at Oropune Gardens and director of corporate communications and productions at Parliament. Pulling no punches in a social media post, Holder held the HDC’s management directly responsible for allowing the conditions that provided fertile ground for crime to take root.
If things continue as they are now, it won’t be long before this community develops a reputation as a crime hotspot to be feared and shunned, with consequences for those living there.
However, even under current conditions, the situation at Oropune Gardens could be salvaged if the HDC, the Police Service and residents were to come together and act quickly and strategically. If the authorities do not act now and continue to allow the situation to slip away from them, they would have no basis for condemning residents for failing to act. When the authorities consistently fail people in their time of need, the logical result is that people become cynical, stick to looking after their own interest on whatever terms suit them and tune out the authorities. This is what happened in East Port of Spain, Diego Martin, Enterprise and other crime-ridden areas of the country where people concluded that their survival depended on their ability to fend for themselves because the State could not stir itself enough to protect them.
The situation in Oropune is not beyond salvage. The HDC and the TTPS must get out of their silos and quickly mount an effective and co-ordinated response. Lives are at stake if they linger too long and act too late.