Crime has risen to record levels at the beginning of 2022. Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, like Stuart Young before him, has been a dismal failure.
Hinds, in fact, is proving to be much worse. Total murders in January reached 52, which was twice the amount in January 2021. They are becoming more brazen and more common.
At The Checklist., we ask what can be done about this?
The UNC has the distinction of being the only government in which crime has actually decreased during its terms of office, rather than increased.
What have been the policies employed in the past that have worked? What can be employed now, immediately, so that we can get some relief quickly?
We sat down with Dr. Roodal Moonilal and Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, both UNC Shadows for the Ministry of National Security, and with Darren Mitchell, a non-politically aligned attorney at law, to represent views from civil society in our Panel Discussion on “Crime and Policing“.
We urge you to listen to the entire exchange by clicking here.
We present a much shortened summary below.
One of the questions we discussed was how did we reach in such a bad position, as we are in now?
Crime is not an Electoral Cycle: Good Programmes Must Continue!
Dr. Moonilal sat in the National Security Council for 5 years from 2010-5 and was part of the UNC’s first administration. Both adminsitrations brought down crime in this country considerably, and he shared his important insights.
“Fighting crime is not a five-year plan,” he explained. “It is not something that you start and stop, and start over and stop, and start over. Crime is not an electoral cycle that way. It is a continuum. It is something that governments have to proceed with, adopt policy, and fix policy, that stays for a period of time.”
“What we have had here is electoral disruptions to policy, and when the party changed there’s a complete dismantling of policy, of program, of institutions.”
“I spent five years as a member of the National Security Council and we spent a lot of time on providing resources — technical and technological resources — to law enforcement to assist when we were there. We we did an uploading of resources, whether it was helicopters, whether it was materials for the police.”
Police Cars Now Reduced!
“A simple thing: we underestimate and sometimes we joke that every UNC government buys police cars,” continued Dr. Moonilal. “But you have to have a very vicious and very visible police patrol in the communities.”
“I used to be proud when people tell me in HDC communities, every time they look in the gallery they see blue flashing light all over the community. Now it is not a good thing because it’s not that we promote the militarisation of society through law enforcement, but you have to give people this sense of comfort that the police is nearby, so we have the partnership Darren Mitchell speaks about.”
“But the police is physically there. They’re watching your back so to speak, and the patrols are very important.”
“And by resource, I don’t mean just changing uniform and putting people in different boots and shirts and pants, and so on. I mean getting the actual resources to the police, to the cop on the street, and ensuring that they can come out tonight and protect this country in the wee hours of darkness when people are so vulnerable to crime.”
“I saw a video of allegedly some incident in Trincity in a car park, and it’s shocking that these things will happen now. I travel, for example, from Port of Spain to San Fernando in the night at times. Sometimes, I come down the highway and I see not one single patrol between Port of Spain and San Fernando. That is shocking because they ought to be fixing the cars. They ought to be having patrols.”
“We can speak about the quality of policing, we can talk about the detection rate, we can talk about all that, but if they’re not physically there in the first place then they don’t give that sort of comfort.”
Disconnect with the TTPS
Darren Mitchell identified what he thought was a main issue to solve: “The disconnect with the TTPS and the citizenry is one very serious thing.”
“For example, the manner in which the TTPS police officers treat citizens — the disrespect, the insensitivity, callousness, in some instances the bully approach. They’re not focusing on partnering with the citizens.”
“Now every single criminal offense that’s committed is known, seen, by someone. Why are they not carrying the news? For many reasons. How could we partner with somebody that we don’t trust? How could we partner with somebody who treats us like animals at times when we go to make a report? How could we partner with someone who after we reach at the station counter, before we leave the station the information is transmitted to the person about whom we are complaining? Partnership is very important. Trust. You see that disconnect? We will go nowhere unless that disconnect is healed.”
Dismantling of Community Comfort Patrol
Dr. Moonilal recalled, “When we were there, I have to remind you and your viewers and listeners, we had something called the Community Comfort Patrol. What we did is that we established private security industry patrols for certain communities so that the police would be relieved. The police would not have to do patrols in several areas. They were liaise with private security who would patrol in areas, and the police would be left to do what is called a tough policing, the really bad areas, the hot spots, the criminal gang issues, and so on.”
“Do you know in certain parts of Diego Martin, for example, as Darren would like to know, the residents actually became very close to the private security police officers on comfort patrol. So much so that if somebody was having a baby and they had to be rushed to the hospital and so on, they actually would call the private security company to take the mother to the hospital. The elderly people knew by name the security officers on the private patrol. They became friends and this government, they dismantled all of that, because in their mind you’re paying money and they have a problem paying money for service. They prefer just squander and corrupt themselves and don’t provide the goods and services.”
“[I will highlight], for example, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar as Prime Minister, several times I visited with her to the IATF centre of the Churchill Roosevelt highway, in which any time we found that crime was rearing its head, we would quickly move to implement army police patrols. Again, what did that do? It brought relief. It brought the crime level down. Even if it was temporary, it came down. Today, when you look in the cities, you look at the villages, and so on, I don’t think anybody recognises a police-army patrol of any kind, where the army gives support to the police in monitoring criminal activity and so on.”
Helicopter Patrols Stopped, CCTV Not Working
Dr. Moonilal also emphasised, “We had helicopter support. I say with with some deep pity that when that child was kidnapped and eventually murdered in January 2020 or thereabouts, CCTV cameras were not working. There were no helicopter patrols.”
“You remember a couple of weeks ago or a month so, there was a shootout in the highway in the vicinity of the Couva Hospital. You would be surprised to know it was a private helicopter that was quickly flagged down like a taxi driver to go up in the air.”
“To go airborne to search for a criminal that had a firearm, that could have shot at the helicopter and kill a civilian pilot.”
“Our information is that it was a civilian helicopter because the government had abandoned our helicopter program, which meant just paying some money every year for a lease of a chopper, having it licensed, having it in use. So they did that. They dismantled our program of aerial support to the police. They dismantled the National Command Centre that Gary Griffith and others worked very hard to build.”
“At the height of this crisis, while Mr. Young boasts now that we have 80 percent CCTV camera footage, you will be shocked to know that in January 2010 this CCTV camera footage was about 45 percent. Almost half the cameras up were not working. And it is only when the opposition really pedalled on this issue and pushed it, that contracts were awarded to TSTT and others to go and do remedial work.”
Government Dismantling of Social Support
Senator Lutchmedial gave her opinion as well, “If I had to say that I want to tackle one thing, I would tackle on a societal level, so that you don’t have crime happening.”
“Because you have the beginning, middle and end when it comes to crime and I would want to focus on the beginning, because it prevents crime… if you don’t tackle prevention, you’re like a hamster on a wheel. You just keep going and going and going.”
“So crime prevention, crime detection and conviction — of the three phases you go through, I would like to focus more on prevention because at the end of the day, and I’ve seen it for myself being in the system for about almost 15 years, that no matter how much detection and conviction that you have, if you don’t tackle prevention, you’re like a hamster on a wheel. You just keep going and going and going.”
“One of the things that I think that the government has really done to contribute to rising crime is the dismantling of a lot of the social support and services that we previously had. I am a strong advocate for tackling the root cause of crime. When you take away people’s opportunities, when you take away certain aspects of social support, access to education, and you make those things harder, you are automatically, in a way, pushing people towards a life of crime.”
“I don’t think that people in most cases in this country are born inherently bad. In crime you have the theory of nature versus nurture.”
“A lot of what we have in this country are people who are driven towards committing crimes based on their circumstances.”
“If you try to alleviate the circumstances into which people are born or the type of environment that they are raised in and you try to give them opportunities to come out of those circumstances and situations, then you steer them away from a life of crime.”
2,000 Children Not Logged on to Online Classes
Senator Lutchmedial points out, “You recall there was a point in time where they said 2,000 children had not logged on to online classes for a period of time. What’s going to happen to those 2,000 children when they want to enjoy the lifestyle that they see other children having? When they don’t get an education, when they are locked out of the system, when they cannot get a job, doesn’t crime and the gang life become attractive to people like that?”
“It’s an eye-opening experience when you interact with those people [who are prosecuted by the State]. Of course you you think that being a prosecutor and being on the side of the State you want to punish criminals as much as possible. But then I remember at various points in time, interacting with young people who had committed violent crimes and then learning one way or the other that they had been sexually abused, that their parents were drug addicts who used to prostitute them for drug money, that they were exposed to extreme acts of violence as children, and no one ever tried to fix the the issues that they went through. Nobody tried to fix their trauma.”
“They had been sexually abused, that their parents were drug addicts who used to prostitute them for drug money, that they were exposed to extreme acts of violence as children”
“So what you have are people walking around with trauma who are desensitized when it comes to a situation of crime. Again poverty, it’s an underlying cause of crime as well. I’m not saying it’s right, but they feel that this is the only way that they can have certain things in their life and then they are driven by that. So it’s a problem that we have to tackle at that root level.”
“No amount of detection and conviction — which is poor as it stands –but no amount, even if we raise the level of detection and conviction, if you’re not tackling the prevention you’re just going to have more people moving through the system.”
Firearms imported in Microwaves and Refrigerators
In addition to the policy, resource and implementation failures of the Government, Senator Lutchmedial drew particular attention to the increased presence of firearms among criminals, and their use in crimes.
Darren Mitchell gave an important insight, “I heard that Senator Lutchmedial mentioned about firearms and you asked the question where does it come? A great number of firearms — I don’t know why they’re not telling people that — is engraved in them ‘Made in the USA’. These things come through our ports, in microwaves, in fridges, in washing machines. It’s known. Yet I just can’t understand how it continues to happen. US-made arms is the major find.”
“Hardly would you find US firearms in Venezuela, and you’ll understand because of the political dynamic. My question is where are the scanners? Where are these things that could just look through these microwaves and identify, ‘Look something looking funny there’?”
PNM’s Failed focus on punishment
Senator Lutchmedial observed, “The focus has shifted somewhat towards punishment and not so much towards addressing the underlying issues like poverty, mental health, domestic type crimes, gender-based violence issues. We don’t have enough focus on those things.”
“I remember I started [to speak about social measures to prevent the creation of gangs] once in Parliament, and you know the whole PNM bench steups and rolled their eyes and whatever.”
“I think we were debating the anti-gang legislation and I questioned why a government would bring this legislation to ‘jail‘ and ‘lock up people‘ and deny them bail when they are accused of being part of a gang. But they are not tackling the issues. In fact, they are creating a situation — and I think that’s what I said that that provoked their their disgust and disdain — that they are creating a situation that is ripe for gang activity.”
Prisons as Major Hub for Criminal Activity
Darren Mitchell continued with his insights, “It’s well known that the hub for serious criminal activity is the prisons of Trinidad and Tobago. These youths have all the time on their hands. They take up their cell phones and they call a shot and they get a five, ten thousand dollars. They send it for their girl to buy a block of weed. They sell it. They’re buying houses!”
“What we have is 1838 prison rules. What about the policies? How are you bringing about the reformation? When you have all these people in here, you’re breeding criminals. Built up and pent up anger, fury, discontent. All being unleashed on society, innocent society, because the system has failed.”
“You stick somebody in there who spit on a pavement and stick him in with 13 other persons for whom evil has dominated their thoughts for one reason or the other. What do you expect? How would that person survive? They have to conform.
“What is in place? Why are these people still being made to use slop pails? And do numbers in gazette paper and send it down a corridor on these kind of operations. What is being done?”
“We have Inspectors of prisons being changed every three years, sometimes the same person. It’s just recycling the issue. Where is this commission of inquiry? But they know because there are reports and so on and nothing happens. So it will continue to cycle and recycle like that, because of that absence of clear needed policies, for reformation, rehabilitation.”
Senator Lutchmedial agreed, “That’s why this bail case that I was a part of, I was so passionate about it. Because let me tell you something. Remand yard has turned from a place where you secure people awaiting trial into a place where you’re creating criminals. Remand yard conditions are so bad. There is actually another case before the courts which I’m also involved in, so I don’t want to talk too much about it, but where we are saying that the remand prison and the circumstances set up at Remand Yard, are so much worse than maximum security prison. So you have persons, enjoying the presumption of innocence, that are subjected to far worse conditions than people who are actually convicted! Could you imagine that? And the State tries to defend these things like that in the year 2022.”
Senator Lutchmedial continues, “When you have a criminal record and it says pending, when you have a matter of serious offense, let’s say it’s robbery, sexual offense, something like that, showing up as pending against you for 10 years, even if you are out on bail you are unemployable for the most part for 10 years. Unless somebody giving you a job to dig a draing or to do manual labor and so on. You cannot uplift and take yourself out of these circumstances that may have led to you becoming involved in criminal activity in the first place.”
“I make the point about this person who we represented or who was litigant in this matter dealing with bail, Mr. Akili Charles, who the state did not even have enough evidence to get past a preliminary inquiry. But it took nine years — nine years! — from 19 to 28, the prime of your life, when everybody going to university, learning a tade, a skill, starting a family, buying the first little car that they could use to go to their job. Whatever it is, he lost those nine years of his life, only for the magistrate to say, ‘Well okay, well the State’s evidence is bad. You’re innocent. Have a nice life. Collect your plastic bag with your belongings and go with God.’ What are you doing?”
Darren Mitchell remembered, “Just a couple of months ago I literally begged a judge to allow a young man to be released on bail after eight years on a bailable offense with no antecedents. He was forgotten. He went in as a child at YTC, at 17 years. Eight years he remained on remand. I cried for that guy. I stood outside the prison with his mother to make sure and make the necessary payments and so on to get people to take him out. I immediately arranged a job for him. He’s working and all. His mind is not the same.”
“He went in as a child at YTC, at 17 years. Eight years he remained on remand. I cried for that guy…. His mind is not the same.”
Slow Justice Increases Crime
Darren Mitchell also observed, “Swift justice as well is important. If any criminal knows that he’s arrested in January and by March you get 10 or 15 years, I challenge the best to want to suffer that fate. You wouldn’t want to. But if you sit there and you’re sure in 10 years you’ll get bail, witnesses will die, the policeman won’t come to court. That is the multifaceted approach that Dr. Moonilal and Senator Lutchmedial referred to. We need everybody’s hands on.”
Solutions: A Core of Competent Ministers Needed!
Can this dismal situation be turned around?
Dr. Moonilal offered an important first core step. “I think one of the important lessons of the past is the hands-on approach of having competent law enforcement Ministers. Managing crime is not really a one-man job or one woman job. I would go further to say it really is not a a job of a Prime Minister alone, per se. He or she has to get a level of competence among, I think, four or five persons.”
“And I can tell you, an Attorney General, a Minister of National Security, Legal Affairs, in some cases Social Development, Justice is something we had fleshed out as a separate issue to deal with prisons. There’s a body of people called law enforcement Ministers, but they have to be competent.”
“Now I mean with great — no with little respect to Fitzgerald Hinds — if you would put all the incompetent ministers and government in a cupboard, he would be in the top quartile of the incompetent. He has failed in possibly every ministry known to a government, and he simply cannot cope.”
Dr. Moonilal remembers his colleagues, “Whether it’s Joe Theodore, when we were in office don’t forget we had John Sandy, who was an extremely strong gentleman. We had other Ministers of National Security, Emmanuel George, a hands-on minister. Mr. Warner was there for a time. We had strong hands-on ministers. Mr. Griffith as well. There’s a man who monitors situations almost by the hour. You need hands-on you need competence.”
Senator Lutchmedial added, “The closest that I think Fitzgerald Hinds has come to dealing with crime is when he put somebody in court for kicking water on him. We have an Attorney-General who boasts about a legislative history in terms of being ‘tough on crime’, and justice, and so on, but cannot show any meaningful impact on crime statistics. We’ve had, even before, ministers of national security who really didn’t display any meaningful contribution towards tackling the problem of crime.”
Proposal for New Border Management Structure
Dr. Moonilal forwarded this important recommendation, “I think the time has come in a policy sense to consider now a new structure, a new creature for maritime and border management of this country. We need to now simply look to the institutions we have and collapse them, because they have not worked.”
“When we speak about firearms coming in refrigerator and microwave, and all these kind of things, that is the reality Darren is telling us about. The issue now is a policy recommendation. We must now dismantle the current ineffective, archaic colonial system of customs and management and all of that, and introduce now a new pillar of a new maritime and border management institution that brings the best of the best, including technology together, to deal with this problem in a confrontational manner.”
Resume Fight Against White-Collar Crime
“The other matter is that — sometimes we don’t talk about it a lot — but we have to, the issue of white collar crime. When you talk white colllar crime, people say “Oh gosh, you know people accuse the UNC of this and accuse the PNM of that and all kind of thing.” The NAR, the UNC have the proudest record in passing laws, in developing institutions, in developing policy to deal with white-collar crime. In fact, people would tell you the Integrity in Public Life Act, the Integrity Commission machinery, all of those type of things are really creatures of a NAR-UNC partnership.”
“When we were in government [with the PP] as well, we passed several pieces of laws and developed institutions, gave resources to the white collar crime-fighting units and so on, to deal with it. In this country you cannot deal with crime unless you address, as well, white-collar crime.”
“It is simple but sophisticated: the matter of procurement. How long did it take them, and they still cannot implement procurement legislation. And procurement legislation deals with fixing the matter of white-collar crime.”
“They accused our administration of everything under the sun, but seven years later cannot generate one criminal case of one kind or another to deal with issues of of any wrongdoing.”
“So that what the PNM does, is they drown you in propaganda. They drown you in mauvais langue, and they have absolutely nothing to show for it by way of dealing and managing the white-collar criminals in this country.”
“Because the people who bring in the guns, as we know, it will not be the guy on the street corner who’s sitting down smoking a weed somewhere. It will be the persons connected to significant capital resources, the persons who are connected to the trading sector, the persons who are connected to business, in some cases. They are the ones who more likely than not will have some type of connection to the drug trade, the gun trade and so on, and you have to deal with that in a confrontational manner with law enforcement and address white collar crime.”
“White collar crime is not generated by two or three fellows making box drain on the side of the road. It is generated by high traders, high flyers and that type of thing. If you have border management that is solid, you have a suit of white collar crime-fighting strategies, I think you can make a dent at the ground in terms of murder, in terms of serious crime.”
Jayanti Lutchemdial agrees, “I remember a police officer telling me directly, ‘There’s only two things that cause people to commit crime: Love and Money.’ So you have domestic-based crime, as man woman altercation, family things, whatever. And then you have the money-type crimes, driven by money. Money is at the roots of a lot of the crime, whether it’s through poverty, whether it’s through whatever it is.”
“Legislation doesn’t solve crime, but properly implemented legislation can make an impact. It is worth saying for the record that all of the legislation that we have right now that really deals with accountability and transparency and tackling white-collar crime, came under the two UNC administrations. You have the Freedom of Information Act, a powerful tool for accountability. You have the Integrity in Public Life Act. You have the Proceeds of Crime Act. You have the establishment of the FIU, and the work that they are supposed to do. Whether they are doing it, and being resourced properly, and all that, is a different scenario.”
“Procurement, as Dr. Moonilal mentioned, that’s a huge huge step in the direction of of cutting back on white collar crime, because if you have poor procurement procedures then you’re going to have people basically having access to the funding, and funding crime through ghost gangs, and projects, and all of that coming down the road. So you have laws that are there, if you implement them properly. So it’s not hopeless because it was done in the past.”
Reducing Stolen Vehicles Stops many Other Crimes!
Dr. Moonilal shared an important anecdote from Government, “I’ll give you one example, a simple thing when we were in office. Officers came to National Security Council and told us, ‘Listen, you know all crimes are being committed in this country, generally the crime would be using firearms. But do you know it’s always involving — generally, again, I’m generalising — a stolen vehicle?’ The police told us, “Let us deal with stolen vehicles, larceny of motor vehicles.’”
“Do you know we put in place as a strategy, a certain approach. Certain areas were highly resourced and a strategy developed — I don’t want to speak too much about that strategy — but a strategy was developed to deal with larceny of motor vehicles.”
“Would you believe in the subsequent three months, four months, serious crimes — robbery, shooting, house larceny, and all that type of thing — went down by I suspect around 35 to 40 percent?”
“Simply because we put an accent on preventing people from stealing vehicles. And we knew the type of vehicles that were likely to be stolen and used in robberies and murder and shooting. It was no rocket science to put in place a highly developed unit in the TTPS to prevent stealing cars.”
“And if you stop stealing cars, the bandit is not going to run away on a horse. They’re not going to jump on a bicycle and pedal out. They’re going to jump in a car. We know the car. In fact, between me and you, we know the colour or the car, we knew the make of the car, we knew when the cars were produced. So we just said, ‘Look, let’s prevent the those cars from being stolen, and we’ll reduce crime.’ And those practical, competent, driven strategies also have an effect on the ground.”
Restore Real Community Policing
Darren Mitchell emphasised, “[We need] real community policing, not people dressing up and just passing by our house and asking if you’re alright. You must know Mrs. So-and-so, Constable so-and-so and befriend them. You must invite them for a cup of tea. They must invite you at some time to things that they have, and so on.”
“The citizenry in turn will respect the police. It will be a joy to take up a phone to tell an officer, ‘Look I now see he hiding a gun there’, ‘Look I in a car and I hear them planning to do this.’”
Senator Lutchmedial added, “One of the things that they have done in the United States that we really needs attacking here, is they have gotten very very tough on corruption with law enforcement. Until you tackle the issue of corruption in law enforcement, you are not going to make a serious impact on crime in this country.”
“You cannot have drug blocks controlled by law enforcement and expect that you’re going to tackle crime. And that’s a very serious problem that we have here.”
“So, that to me is something that requires a lot of political will. I know probably any police officer looking at us though will steups and roll their eyes and not be happy about me saying it, but the fact of the matter is it is a problem.”
“Do you know how many people are fearful of coming forward as witnesses to crime as well because they believe that the police are working hand-in-hand with the criminals? Until you restore that level of trust and confidence, that the public can have in the TTPS by cleaning it up you’re not going to get anywhere.”
“I was much younger and it was shocking to me. Someone said that they had a licensed firearm and they were going to travel or something and they were scared to lodge in the police station, because they did not want the police in their district to know that they had a firearm, because they were afraid that the police themselves would then inform people that, ‘Hey, this man have a gun in his house. Go in there, rob him, take his gun.’ Because that’s the that’s how people sometimes view police in the area in the district.”
Transfer Needed Resources To Police, Not Cut Them!
Dr. Moonilal offered “So I think that what we require really is to return to a strategy — in addition to, of course, what the Senator and Mr. Mitchell is saying — of resource transfer in critical areas that would make the difference.”
“I am confident that if you get three or four very competent men and women in the security sector, within 90 days or so you can start seeing some difference in terms of the ground.”
“In terms of protecting persons, in terms of giving some measure of comfort, in terms of getting some type of system to work.”
“Sure the justice system has to fix. That will take a little more time, but it has to start it has to start with competence and start with policy. It starts with program, it starts with the right laws.”
“In societies once the economy collapse, as it has here, that drives crime. It drives the drug use, it drives the delinquency, it drives the broken family syndrome that leads to kids being on the street.”
“In fact, the great American actor, Denzel Washington, did an interview recently and he said that at seven years children are not really criminals. He said children in the home don’t have a father and mother. And the gang leader becomes their father. And then the judge become their grandfather, by putting them in jail.”
“So we need that holistic approach to understand the importance of the home, the importance of economic activity, that a mother can make enough money to take care of the children, a single mother, that a father can provide for the children, so that they don’t go out on the street, they don’t get lost, they are well equipped to deal with some of the challenges, and to resist temptation. That comes as well with economic opportunity.”
“The twin issue for me in the courage for the future is the competence that is required, which I think we possess, and secondly, the economic expansionism that will deal with social problems, including crime.”