Experts: Gov't needs more time on crime


Even as fifty murders rocked the country in September alone, experts are saying the Government needs more time in office in order to make a meaningful impact on murders. Sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Roland Marshall, says that the current Government has not been in power long enough to have a negative or positive impact on the current crime situation. “It has to be looked at objectively and time needs to be given in order for a proper assessment to take place,” he said, “it will be more fair to ask that question after the first one hundred days.”


Dr Wendell Wallace, a lecturer from the Criminology Unit at the University of the West Indies, believes that the recent statement by former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan that the public no longer has trust in the protective services is purely political, “which reeks of a lack of understanding of the true reasons behind crime,” he said. Dr Wallace told that no one political party could be blamed for crime in Trinidad and Tobago. “Crime did not arrive in the Caribbean overnight and it will not be solved overnight,” he said, “so any politician using glib speeches to brainwash the population will not be successful because I think as a population we are highly intelligent and will not buy into that concept.”


Former Port of Spain Mayor, Louis Lee Sing, told that the past Patrick Manning-led PNM administration was the most heavily tested by crime. However, he said that it was also the one that has had some of the greatest results against it. “Under the PNM, kidnapping rose to its highest levels ever in the history of the country,” he said, “but it was also under that same PNM Manning administration, that kidnappings disappeared down to zilch.”


In 2007 the kidnappings stood at 155 but had dropped to 4 by the end of their administration. In 2008 the murder toll was 550 and was at 485 by the time the PNM left office in 2010. “The murder at one point peaked,” Lee Sing said, “but the PNM steadfastly worked on reducing crime in the country.”

Despite his acknowledgment of the results of the PNMs stance on crime, Lee Sing believes that no matter which administration had been in power, none have truly dealt with the social issue of reducing the number of criminals in society. The former Mayor said social initiatives such as proper family planning programs, improvement in social development programs that create sustainable jobs, and the implementation of a National Youth Service, should be the main focus to stymie criminal activity.


Dr Wallace believed that policy makers have adopted the position that crime is only a legal issue and that this is evident through the strict legal measures utilised to combat it. He told that this approach is “populist punitive” and says that increasing punishment and harsh legislation does not deter crime. Dr Wallace says he agrees with Lee Sing that crime is more of a social issue. “I have always argued that we need to put better social programs in place, especially in some of the dysfunctional communities,” he said, adding that crime has a lot to do with people feeling marginalised and he advocated that disenfranchised people should be given alternative options rather that only being faced with strict legislation.


Existing social programmes took a knock from former Mayor Lee Sing as he said the Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP), leaves him unimpressed. “The CEPEP programme has lost its way, it was intended to create entrepreneurs, but what it has done is create gangs,” Lee Sing said, “we need to move away from that.” He said that the work that CEPEP currently undertakes, should be done by the nation's prisoners so that they can be utilised as a productive force in the society. An initiative he believes can best help toward their rehabilitation and societal reintegration.


Dr Wallace said the CEPEP and URP programs only provide temporary relief to a chronic social problem and believes that something more consistent should be implemented. He suggested career pathway centres, institutions where parents can be assisted with proper parenting programmes and he also emphasized the need to look beyond the traditional educational system so that people can be given proper life skills. “These are the ways we can serve to reduce crime in Trinidad and Tobago.”


Dr Wallace agrees with Lee Sing about the implementation of a National Youth Service, for persons between the ages of 16 and 25. Wallace suggested that the MiLAT (Military Led Academic Training) Academy and the Military Led Youth Programme of Apprenticeship and Reorientation (MYPART) initiatives be restructured. These programmes are currently social intervention initiatives for at risk young men, providing mentorship and reinforcement. “You come up with a National Youth Service where you can measure and evaluate the success of these programs and then you move the youths successfully out of the program,” he said, “it’s more long term and it’s sustainable as well.”


Tackling the police service former Mayor Lee Sing believes that naming a Police Commissioner is “not going to change anything,” adding that the current acting Commissioner is already executing all of the functions of Police Commissioner. He insists that the responsibility to curb criminal activity belongs to the citizens and not the government. “We have got to find the resources to ensure that each community becomes responsible for the criminal activity in that community and it requires thinking that I am not seeing evident in any administration at the moment.”


It’s an opinion shared by Dr Wallace, who says that the fight against crime is not a one man initiative. He said that the citizenry should be inculcated with a sense of responsibility regarding crime and suggested that all stakeholders collaborate in order to facilitate this. He is keen on various Government Ministries and not only that of National Security, getting involved in crime prevention in their own way. Wallace believes that the Ministry of Education and the Information Division should be involved to instil values in youth as well as in sending particular messages to the wider community.  “You can use the Ministry of Works and the Regional Corporations to clean up neighbourhoods that are overburdened and polluted,” he said, “This is in relation to the sociological Broken Windows Theory (BWT).”


Wallace describes BWT as the perception by the public that when observe something that is broken and run down it suggests that no one cares about it and thus that object can be further violated without any form of consequence. With the implementation of policies that seek to make the communal environment more clean , along with other social initiatives, Wallace believes that collaborative efforts such as those will be most the most effective against crime in Trinidad and Tobago


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