SSA warns of younger, more violent gangsters

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

CRIME SCENE: In this file photo police at the crime scene after Junior Chase was shot dead on Good Friday in San Fernando. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –

YOUNGER and more violent gang leaders are taking over the local criminal landscape, warned the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) report for 2021, laid in the Senate on Tuesday, along with reports for 2020 and 2019.

In addition, local dancehall music is being used as a recruitment tool, the report added.

The report warned of the illegal import of guns from North America and South America, with intelligence suggesting complicity by some customs officials, brokers and port staff, plus a diversion of firearms by corrupt Venezuelan law enforcement officers and traffickers, with some Venezuelans living in TT brokering deals for TT traffickers.

The report said the previous covid19 restrictions had initially somewhat limited gang-on-gang killings to home and localised community spaces, rather than the public space.

The SSA said younger gang leaders were taking over, in a noticeable shift in leadership, as several notorious gang leaders were eliminated by gang rivals or remained incarcerated for long periods.

“Newer, younger, more violent leaders are emerging and existing gangs are disaggregating with an accompanying level of animosity towards each other.”

This changing gang landscape reflected a shift away from intergenerational criminality and resulted in a lack of loyalty among these newer gang members.

“These occurrences, coupled with the branding and association with conflicting music styles and artistes, also encourage the ensuing violence.”

Gang violence has had a sporadic spread into non “hotspot” areas in Trinidad and Tobago, accompanied by the spread of graffiti in state housing schemes.

“This is anticipated to put further strain on the already limited national security resources as gang-splintering, particularly in hot spot communities, is expected to result in the emergence of new gangs, new symbols and an increased social media presence.

“These newer gangs are anticipated to be more volatile as they try to establish themselves resulting in an increase in murders, injuries, shootings and other violent crimes.”

The SSA warned that while gangs row over state projects/contracts, they are entering other money-making ventures.

“These include but are not limited to illegal quarrying, fraud-scheming, money-laundering, black-market sale and resale of US currency, copper theft, party and events promotion, organised robbery, motor vehicle larceny, marijuana trafficking, counterfeiting, human smuggling and illegal gambling.

“This thrust by criminal gangs to engage in poly-criminality to maintain a constant revenue stream, is an integral issue that requires the State to also be multifaceted in its approach to dismantle the existing and emerging criminal gangs.”

Drug trafficking and state contracts are now insufficient to fund the gangs, the report said.

“Monetary and profit-motivated crimes remain at the fore by most criminal actors.

“Kidnapping-for-ransom, extortion, burglary and other property-based crimes for non-traceable items are expected to persist.”

The SSA report for 2020 reflected similar concerns over criminal gangs, including youth involvement.

“As the year progressed there was a noticeable increase in property-related crimes including house breaking and burglaries, motor vehicle larceny and robberies.”

The SSA lamented an increase in online crimes, such as online fraud and phishing.

“Card skimming and ATM/ABM fraud has been trending upwards. Several point-of-sale transactions were compromised due to the use of card-cloning devices, which have been sourced and imported to the country through shipping companies from North America and Europe. The expertise for this type of crime however primarily exists with non-nationals who reside in the country.”

The 2020 report also lamented younger gang leaders, and again linked this to certain musical genres and the zesser culture.

“It was observed that the mean age of gang members was becoming lower.

“This was related to the cultural pull factors, associated with the new dancehall culture or ‘zesser’ ethos.

“During the covid19 pandemic, several gangs hosted private ‘zess’ parties, which were characterised by the use of amphetamine pills, synthetic marijuana, edibles and cocaine. The younger demographic is also reflected in these parties.”

The report lamented that despite some seizures of illegal guns, the unabated importing of updated and even more sophisticated weapons continued.

“Several gangs now have in their possession weapons which are automatic.

“These need to be destroyed, as intelligence reports reveal some seized firearms do make it back onto the streets, in the hands of criminals.”

The report said younger gang leaders have killed older ones.

Hitherto, TT had two main gangs, but in 2020 these began to fragment to create two new gangs.

“These gangs have expanded rapidly and their membership comprises several minors.

“This younger group has an increased penchant for violence and has successfully targeted senior gang members in several other communities.”

The SSA expected these gangs to evolve and and their criminality to go beyond seeking state contracts.

“In context of these new gangs, there will be a higher involvement of females in these gangs and much younger males than traditionally observed.

“The evolving threat posed by gangs is expected to morph over time possibly creating and allowing a subculture to thrive within the larger national context. These trends will continue into 2021.”

The 2019 SSA report also linked youth gang membership to certain musical styles.

“As gangs remain separated along ideological lines, the level of violence will increase as the mean age for members decrease.”

This younger group has proven to be “more violent and brazen,” said the report, and therefore more influential.

“The infusion of gang culture with dancehall music is also an issue for specific age groups.

“Music has allowed a medium for gang members to display wealth and other ill-gotten gains via social media allowing for the glorification of the illegal lifestyle.

“This is also an effective recruitment strategy allowing gangs to ensure continuity.”