Farley: More murders will hurt Tobago’s tourism

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine addresses media at a press conference on Tuesday alongside Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services Tobago, Scarborough, Tobago. – Photo by Visual Styles

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine fears Tobago’s tourism sector may not be able to withstand a further increase in murders and violent crime.

A shooting in Black Rock on July 8 claimed the lives of four men, pushing the island’s murder toll for 2024 to a record-high 16 after just over six months have passed for the year. Tobago had 14 murders in 2023.

Augustine attended his first National Security Council meeting as Chief Secretary on July 9 at the Central Administrative Services – Tobago, Scarborough.

The Prime Minister, who is chair of the council, had invited him to the meeting to discuss the island’s worsening crime situation.

In attendance were National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher, members of the police’s executive and other top brass from Tobago.

Augustine, who described the meeting as productive, said he was satisfied with the plans that were discussed.

“If we are able to execute them, I think we will be able to make a significant dent. We are not too far gone. I don’t think we have gone over the edge as yet, But we don’t want to get to that point,” he told reporters.

“So I want you to see today’s meeting as being proactive and ensuring that we are not waiting until the situation worsens to then respond. See this as us doing an intervention in a timely manner.

“Every death we have had so far is one way above what we would like to have on the island and certainly with an island whose main economy, one of its main productive sectors outside of the government sector, is tourism. Certainly, we would not want this getting beyond where it is now. So it is really about a consolidated and collaborative effort on all fronts to attack this problem.”

He said even though murders might still occur despite their best efforts, “I am saying that the plans we have discussed, they are all solid plans. They are grounded in data. They are scientific in nature and once we are able to execute them with the resources we have, chances are we will see a significant reduction.”

Augustine, based on the plans discussed, predicted Tobago would see a reduction in murders in comparison to the first half of the year.

CoP: Police presence increased in Tobago

Harewood-Christopher said she had deployed additional officers from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) to Tobago in an effort to stem the surge of murders and other gun-related crimes on the island.

“That was done to create or to facilitate a frontal approach against the criminal element,” she said.

Harewood-Christopher, who extended condolences to the families of the victims in the Black Rock shooting, acknowledged that Tobago has had an unprecedented increase in violent crime in recent months. But she said police were taking steps to address the scourge.

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, right, chats with Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Junior Benjamin at a post-National Security Council meeting news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services Tobago in Scarborough on July 9. – Photo by Visual Styles

Apart from the deployment of GEB and IATF officers, she said as of July 8, officers were also transferred to Tobago to provide training to frontline officers.

“Additionally, we will increase our intelligence focus on the island of Tobago. We will provide training to develop the capacity of the officers in terms of intelligence gathering and investigations.”

Harewood-Christopher urged the public to assist the police.

“We cannot do it alone. “

She also said the police will increase their technological capabilities with the use of CCTV cameras as well as intelligence gathering by way of cyber crime and additional forensic capabilities.

Hinds said more CCTV surveillance cameras would be installed in Tobago.

“We have indicated publicly that we propose to add another 2,500 cameras (nationally) to the 2,500 we have recently installed…So as those are procured and come into operation, we have no doubt that other locations, as identified by the police, will receive too in Tobago.”

PM: More Trinidad cops to operate in Tobago

Dr Rowley said the killings in Black Rock were a reminder that Tobago was not immune from the level of criminality being experienced by people in Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean.

He observed, though, that Tobago, over time, has seen “through a variety of roots and sources, a creeping involvement in the criminality that was more commonplace in Trinidad

“And now, more than before, some Tobagonians are in fact contributing and participating in the style of criminality for which Trinidad is well-known.”

Rowley said the criminals in Tobago were using technology to communicate with their counterparts in Trinidad on an ongoing basis.

“The modern technology allows a Tobagonian anywhere in Tobago to be in contact instantaneously with a person outside of Tobago.”

Rowley said efforts were under way to ensure that Tobago had its own 999 emergency line, separate from Trinidad, to improve response times and information management.

The crime fight in Tobago, he said, called for a different approach to policing – one which involved the infusion of Trinidad officers among their counterparts on the island.

Rowley said he learnt, during the meeting, that 90 per cent of the officers policing Tobago were from the island.

He added while that might be a good thing because people were policing home, “There are certain outflows from that which cause me and others to believe that the policing effort is not as sharp as it should be, largely because of the general maxim, familiarity breeds contempt.”

Rowley added, “We have decided in the discussion this morning that the Tobago policing effort can benefit from a greater effort of inter-mingling of the services and the use of the major resources of the nation to have as part of their development that our Tobago officers, particularly the young ones, should benefit from exposure and training with officers who are not domiciled in Tobago.

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher outlines her anti-crime plans at a press conference on July 9 alongside Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services Tobago, Scarborough, Tobago. – Photo by Visual Styles

“That will improve their development, improve the skill levels and allow them to function more effectively.”

Rowley said Tobago was part of the country and must improve its ability to respond by drawing on the resources from Trinidad.

“Therefore, the circumstances call for more officers from Trinidad to function in Tobago to allow the policing in Tobago to benefit from that development.

“It is not that Trinidad has perfected its own policing. We have a serious problem with policing and criminal conduct, but we believe that Tobago, with its peculiar smaller population, isolation on the island, should really not be overrun by criminal conduct.”

He said Tobagonians also had a role to play in helping to minimise crime.

“Many of you know exactly who is doing what and you have not been sharing that information sufficiently with the police. And the police is giving you the undertaking that it will redouble its efforts by using the information that you share with them.”