Opposition MPs, business heads want firmer action on crime

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this file photo, a soldier accompanies a police officer during a patrol in Arima. – Angelo Marcelle

While the Prime Minister assured resources were being allocated to the national security forces to combat crime and called on citizens to speak up against criminals, stakeholders are not satisfied this is enough to get a grip on the scourge.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement on Saturday morning after a wave of violent crime in the last week of the year, including a brazen shooting on Churchill Roosevelt Highway, where four people were killed, including an innocent woman, and the kidnapping of an El Socorro woman by fake cops.

For political opponents, like opposition national security shadow minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, he described the PM’s statement as an indictment of his failure as a leader. He said the statement was “vague and pointless” and did not offer the nation any new anti-crime initiatives or hope of a safer 2024.

“Generally, Rowley has still not formulated a workable anti-crime plan to challenge the band of lawless operatives, stalled the flow of guns and drugs, and speed up the criminal justice system,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally called for a more comprehensive plan and immediate action to ensure the public’s safety.

“The Prime Minister’s latest message which sheepishly aims to address the explosion of violent crime including the kidnapping of a businesswoman, daylight executions on our highways, and runaway home invasions, lacks the urgency and gravitas demanded by the current state of affairs,” he said.

“We are not facing mere inconveniences; we are confronted with a growing menace that is terrorizing our communities, leaving a trail of fear, pain, and loss.”

While Tobago Business Chamber head Martin George said he empathised with the struggle to get a grasp on illegal arms and ammunition entering the country, he lamented the population is yet to see a clear or definitive pathway from the authorities to combat this critical foundation for crime in the country.

“If one looks at all the murders committed over the years, you would see the majority of them are committed by the use of illegal guns so, therefore, it is imperative, it is absolutely imperative that there be some clear, definitive and direct plan of action that is laid out and rolled out by the government, by the Ministry of National Security and by the police to show how they are going to stem the inflow of these illegal guns and how they are going to get the illegal guns that are already here off the streets.”

President of the Greater San Fernando Chamber Kiran Singh called for the other arms of national security to have a more active role in fighting crime.

“It seems from all evidence and reports from the media and social media that gang warfare is spiralling out of control and innocent persons are losing their lives at the hands of these criminals and we would want to suggest the police may be in need of assistance from the other armed forces in the country vis-a-vis the army, the Defence Force. Bring them out to assist the police. We know their powers of arrest are limited, certainly, but maybe the engagement of the army with the police can arrest the criminal elements from the gang side.”

In October, President Christine Kangaloo, called out the volunteer Defence Force to support the police over the Christmas period into Carnival.

These joint patrols, Singh said, were witnessed in San Fernando and proved to be effective, supporting his argument for continued collaboration.

The PM’s statement follows a security alerty issued by the US embassy’s which warned about criminal activity in crowded public locations such as markets, shopping malls, airports, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, transportation hubs, schools, and other areas.

“Due to recent increased gang activity in St Augustine, it said, US citizens are advised to exercise extreme caution in the St. Augustine areas of Trincity Mall, Trincity, Grand Bazaar, and Valsayn areas into the new year,” it said.

It asked its citizens to exercise vigilance or avoid areas with heightened criminal activity, review their personal security plans, be aware of their surroundings and monitor local media for updates.