WHERE gangs flourish, productive people leave and the community begins to rot.
Cut off the financial resources of gangs.
“Harden” communities not yet under the influence of gangs.
This was the essence of Friday night’s “National Conversation on Factors Influencing the Murder Level” in Trinidad and Tobago.
Hosted by the Trade and Economic Development Unit of The University of the West Indies, the discussion was chaired by strategic security consultant Garvin Heerah and featured retired deputy police commissioner Wendell Williams, economist Dr Roger Hosein and regional security adviser Charles Suilen.
Williams, a police officer for 40 years, described what he termed as the gradual surrendering of the high ground.
Focusing on Laventille as being one of the nation’s epicentres of crime and one of the strongholds for gangs controlling what he termed the literal high ground overlooking the capital, Williams said: “They can see what’s happening, given its geographical location and controlling Picton Hill they are able to oversee and prepare before their enemy approaches. The high ground is being used to launch crime. They can come into an area, do crime and get back to hill and evade the police.”
He said as a young officer he saw the departure of working families, whom he described as “community preservers” with the ability to show the young the benefits of hard work and stability.
He said these people would have been home-grown and respected by both the few criminal elements in the community and law enforcement.
He said as the “preservers” moved out, gangs gradually stepped into those ranks and became entrenched and legitimised.
According to Williams, the complicity by officials made a great contribution towards the hardening of gangs, to the extent that these gangs and the gang culture were able to spread to communities outside of Laventille to what he described as “low-ground communities”.
He said, however, the only way to stop the spread was to “harden” communities not yet under the influence of gangs.
“Lesson learned in Second Caledonia, Morvant, a few years ago was that an area can be blanketed by law enforcement, and the few gang members and leaders can be arrested and charged,” he said.
“There are decent people in those communities that would need support. Empower them. Pay attention to the youth and give young people a fresh vision. Success will breed success with increased gang interdiction,” he said.
He added enforcement had to be ongoing.
“Any intervention made by police in a community where gangs are heavily entrenched has to be very specific. The target has to be clear and sustainable because not finishing the job is probably worse than just leaving the problem alone,” he said.
He said the reason for this was “people would begin to believe in the police and would return, so if you leave them it would be a very vulnerable group”, he said.
Money not the root
of all murders
Economist Roger Hosein said economic depression was not the driver for murders in Trinidad and Tobago.
He firstly predicted that the country’s murder toll may be tallied at approximately 620 by the end of the year, given a model he has been using.
He described Trinidad and Tobago’s situation as complex, given that in 2008, when unemployment was at its lowest, four per cent with real Gross Domestic Product at its peak, the country recorded its highest murder toll at 550.
“Unemployment was not causing this crime, but it was other factors driving this level,” he said.
He said if the toll this year crosses 600, “it would be a psychological blow to people like me… because I might think, run away with the kids? Hiding? How can I invest? How can I sit in Rituals or Starbucks and do research?”
He said with the current situation he had no problem paying taxes, but he wanted a reduction in crime and to be better off.
Cut off their money
Security adviser Suilen’s advice was simple: cut their money.
“You can take out a high target,” he explained.
He said if the head of a gang is removed there would be 20 more standing in line to take his place, but if “you cut off their financial resources then, yes, it would work”. He added, however, this method of combating gangs went hand in hand with fighting corruption.
“If not synced, one hand has been cut off and another will be grabbing somewhere else, so we need to have a proper strategy for this in place,” he said.
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