Criminologists: $100m crime plan a step in the right direction

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds in discussion during a PNM meeting in San Juan on January 18. – Photo by Roger Jacob

CRIMINOLOGISTS Dr Randy Seepersad and Darius Figuera welcomed the $100 million initiative announced by the Prime Minister that will see the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) being deployed in certain communities where development is stymied by crime.

But they said this initiative must be followed by others to ensure that progress is made with respect to curbing crime.

Addressing a PNM public meeting in San Juan on January 18, Dr Rowley said he would instruct Finance Minister Colm Imbert to make $100 million available for development in certain communities with high levels of crime.

“The money that we will make available, as I am describing here, will be made available to the Defence Force leadership.”

Rowley said this money will used by the TTDF “to retain and to hire reserve officers or retired officers and recruits, to go into those communities and ensure that what has to be built is built.”

He added, “No criminal in this country could take the position that the Government must give deference to you because you have a gun or you have access to a gun. The State and the people of TT must stand predominant in this country.”

One hundred reserve officers are already on duty, as of October 30 2023, when they were called out by President Christine Kangaloo to serve for 123 days until February 29, 2024 to provide “operational support” to the police for Christmas and Carnival.

Commenting on Rowley’s announcement, Seepersad said, “Development is something that has really been stymied in these particular communities and it is something that is really needed.”

But he added,”Development is a very, very broad phrase that could mean a lot of different things.”

Physical development, Seepersad continued, is just one aspect of it.

He said it appeared that the development which Rowley is referring to in this initiative, seems to be mostly physical.

Seepersad added he was subject to correction on this.

He said there needs to be some explanation about how the $100 million mentioned by Rowley will be used.

Physical development, Seepersad continued, is very expensive.

He said there could be cases of going into a single community and fixing a road for $100 million.

“It really depends on how that $100 million is going to be used and for what things.”

Seepersad said other forms of development are needed in crime hot spot communities.

“You need after school programmes, training programmes for families. You need things that provide opportunities for youths. Entrepreneurship training. Vocational training.”

While giving a physical facelift to a community is a good start, Seepersad said, “You can give a facelift to a community but it does not change the community.It does not change the mindset. It does not change the level of skills. It does not change the opportunities.”

Seepersad said he is not criticising Rowley.

While many communities need help, he continued, $100 million spent over too many communities will not benefit any of them.

“There has to be some level of choice involved.”

Seepersad suggested that Rowley have Government partner with people coming to TT to do work in vulnerable communities.

He said USAid (United States Agency for International Development) has projects which are aimed at helping youth people crime hot spot communities.

Seepersad added that there may be a lot of good opportunities for collaboration between Government and these groups to achieve their common objectives.

“A coordinated effort might probably be better than each doing their own thing, not knowing what the other is doing.”

Figuera said, “There is a grave, pressing need for the State to now exert its power over vast swaths of territory that are under the hegemony of transnational organised crime and its organised crime offshoot of gangland TT.”

He added, “The alternate discourse with its worldview of the illicit trades has been allowed to socialise successive generations of citizens of TT who reside in these spaces constituting in effect a sustainable army of foot soldiers for gangland TT.”

This impunity afforded criminality, Figuera continued, “has now ensured that gangland is now the most powerful alternate lifestyle and culture in TT today.”

He said this has effectively generated “a crisis of social control for the State that since 2017 is now acute, threatening the very sustainability of the social order under the rule of law.”

While welcoming the $100 million crime plan announced by Rowley, Figuera said this initiative by itself will not break the control which criminals have over certain communities.

“It must be backed up by a national security apparatus that is now capable of dismantling transnational and organised crime cells resulting in prison time etc.”

Figuera said, “To accomplish this there has to be deep-seated, ongoing reform of the national security apparatus now.”

He added, “The issue is not providing resources to the national security apparatus but deep seated reform, revisioning and reformulation ensuring that this apparatus is brought screaming into the 21st century.”

Figuera said there must also be simultaneous improvements in the Judiciary and the prison system to assist in achieving the objective of curbing crime.