Jacob: Use of assault rifles linked to murder spike

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Acting CoP McDonald Jacob. –

Even as the murder toll crossed 500, the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP), McDonald Jacob, urged the police and public to remain resilient in the fight against criminals.

Jacob said one of the significant factors contributing to homicides was the use of high-powered guns. Because of this, the number of double, triple, and quadruple killings has increased.

“We even had incidents where five people were killed. Even though they may be fewer incidents, there is a higher number of the murder figure,” Jacob told Sunday Newsday on Saturday.

Three murders between Friday night and Saturday increased this country’s homicides to 501. On Friday night, Roger Charles, 26, was shot dead in Enterprise, Chaguanas. As of Saturday morning, the latest victims were brothers Elvis Hernandez, 28, and his brother Nirmal Rambaran, 18. Their bodies were found in the Tunapuna cemetery.

Jacob assured that the police are making all efforts to remove guns from the streets and prevent them from entering the country. The police have charged 1,211 people, so far this year, for gun-related offences and have seized 580 guns. Of those, 102 were submachine guns – AR-15s and AK-47s – weapons used by soldiers in war.

“This is the first time in the history of TT the police ever recovered so many high-powered weapons. In fact, the average over the last five to ten years have been 56 per year,” Jacob said.

He gave an example of the impact of such weapons, saying out of 25 shooting incidents, about 90 people were hit.

Jacob said, “Out of those, 65 people lost their lives. In years gone by, out of those 25 incidents, we might have recorded 30 murders.”

Recently, the police have seized several high-powered weapons coming from North America.

Jacob also recalled that three people were charged in the US earlier in the week for exporting illegal guns to TT.

“Our trans-national crime unit is working hand-in-hand with the international agencies, including Homeland Security, and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau to undermine this network that is operating and sending firearms to TT,” he said.

“In simple words, it is big business. An AK-47 or AR-15 costs between $40,000 to $45,000. A Glock pistol costs about $20,000. A revolver costs about $12,000.”

Crime Scene Unit officers search for evidence among tombstone at the scene of double murder at the Tunapua public cemetery on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

Jacob said that “somebody, somewhere” is earning millions from the number of illegal guns being sent to TT and other Caribbean countries.

He said he and the executive were very concerned about the murder figure, saying it gives them no solace.

He also called on lawmakers to review the entire aspect of the Bail Bill. The Attorney General has said he planned to review the law and bring new legislation back to Parliament.

“We are simply asking them to give the police service another chance. Give us another chance with the bail bill where for 120 days, people found with guns would not be granted bail,” Jacob said.

“We also ask people in the criminal justice system to review the penalties being meted out to convicted people. The police service is now more prepared to have the matters completed in the court in a timely manner.”

The police, he said, have introduced case management offices in all the divisions and are managing matters “more effectively.”

“Some people we deem as gang members and who were killed, their records showed that they were charged on several occasions. At the time of their deaths, many were on bail,” he said.

“We cannot continue fighting the battle this way by protecting the rights of the minority over the general public.”

Apart from the proliferation of high-powered weapons, the influx of the Venezuelan migrants is another significant issue

“Some of them have joined gangs and are involved in criminal activities in TT. So in 2022, we have another layer to add to the whole crime landscape that we need to manage,” Jacob said.

The police are aware that some guns come through illegal ports from the mainland but the majority are coming through the legal ports, Jacob added.

Jacob pleaded with people to stop making negative remarks about the police.

“Stop doing and saying things to demoralise my officers. They are making genuine efforts to address the crime situation.”

He went on, “I plead to the general population to not be despondent. We want you to continue supporting us because some of the guns we took off the streets, came from your help.”

Sixteen people, including three-year-old Nazim Owen of Diego Martin, were killed over the Divali holiday long weekend between October 21 and 24.

Nazim died days after nine-year-old Jomol Modeste was killed in a drive-by shooting at the Africa Recreation Grounds, Enterprise, Chaguanas.

On October 25, the Opposition wrote to Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland chairman of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on national security meeting to discuss the “staggering increase” in the murder rate.

The letter was signed by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal and Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial. In response, Scotland said he is prepared to discuss the proposal at the committee’s next meeting as a matter of urgency.

Opposition MP Rodney Charles on Saturday labelled this month as “Bloody October.”

He called on the Cabinet to resign, accusing the Prime Minister of being “totally silent.”

Charles, in a statement, said the country has surpassed the murder rate for a similar period in 2008. A total of 550 murders were recorded in 2008.

That year, it took 11 months to get to 500 murders, Charles said.

“Unless decisive, serious, intelligent, and visionary action is immediately taken, 2022 will become the new deadliest year,” he said.

“The Prime Minister boldly labelled crime as a public health emergency four months ago, yet nothing has been done.”

Charles charged that criminals have become more brazen and gruesome in their activities.

“We have reached a point where hearing reports of 14 murders over a weekend is the new normal. How can Minister (Fitzgerald) Hinds and the acting CoP claim victory over seizures of high-powered rifles when the masterminds bringing in those guns roam freely and undetected?”

The Naparima MP posed several questions to Cabinet members, “Has Minister Hinds and PM Rowley become numb to the violent crimes occurring daily? What new crime fighting initiatives has Minister Hinds implemented since office?”

He charged that if the Government cannot develop a “proper” crime plan, the UNC would be willing to give “some pointers.”

Calls to Hinds and the PM went unanswered yesterday. At the passing out ceremony for 100 police recruits on Wednesday, Hinds said he was aware of the challenges posed by murders, but government continues to do all it can through the protective services, noting recent seizures of high-powered guns.