National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. – File photo
MINISTER of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds has admitted more must be done to fight gun violence.
In a TV6 News interview on Wednesday, Hinds, asked about the police reports of hundreds of illegal guns being taken off the streets in 2023, but high-powered guns and ammunition are still in the hands of criminals, admitted the country’s borders need more protection, which was a work in progress.
“We are purchasing vessels, repairing them and trying to improve our borders because, like other countries in the region, we have this issue of illegal guns coming from the US and becoming illegal in our space.” He said the Police Service has a very active gun-retrieval programme that has taken thousands of guns off the streets, while stating that there are still far too many and ammunition.
“Prior to 2018, in the last three to four years, 5.56 and 7.62 mm of ammunition were not so prevalent in society. Those were in the hands of law enforcement and military personnel. Now they are available to criminals and all over the street. So it’s a matter that is under investigation.”
Saying further that assault military ammunition has proliferated society and crime scenes, labelling it as a diversion when it gets from the legal hands of law enforcement, owners and dealers to illegal hands. He acknowledges that this must be investigated.
When asked about public safety with the recent surge in murders, specifically double and triple murders, as seen in the last week of 2023 and the first few days of 2024, Hinds says this level of violence prevails in Trinidad and Tobago, saying it is perpetrated by citizens for the most part and foreigners to a lesser extent.
“Last year, we had 576 murders, with two murders on New Year’s. I want you to understand that this level of violence is not new to your country. In 2014, on New Year’s Day alone, we had six murders. Unfortunately, in 2014 and 2018, we had four of them. The level of violence is amazing.”
The MP gave a breakdown of the 576 murders in 2023, saying 49 were a result of petty altercations and 11 were a result of domestic violence and 17 non-intimate family killings. He said drug issues accounted for 68, and gang violence was the largest contributor, accounting for 261.
He said his ministry has put a lot of focus on gang violence and continues to do so.
“We pass laws, we arrest and charge people for gang affairs. We have restricted bail, but we can’t do it now because the Opposition didn’t give us the level of support that it requires.”
When asked if he believed in the effectiveness of systems and policies regarding gender-based violence, such as restraining orders, he said, “These things must evolve. We learn as we proceed. We have domestic violence legislation up to 2011. We improved it and strengthened it. And the process must continue. We need to do more. So we consistently look at the laws, we look at the police practices and their responses to them, and I think, generally, society is more sensitive to the need to protect women and children.”
With young men being the main perpetrators of gun violence, he was asked what further could be done to steer young men on a different path. He said $7 billion a year is spent on the education system from early childhood through primary, secondary and even tertiary levels, saying technical vocational programmes are available to those who are not academically inclined.
“We have the Youth Development Ministry doing a fantastic job offering programmes…entrepreneurship. In the Ministry of Sport, we have business opportunities and grants. There is no shortage of opportunity for young people in TT. Even inside the prison, all of these programmes are available to persons both on remand and convicted inmates.”