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Crisis point *LINK*

Newsday Editorial

Yesterday, the number of murders in Trinidad and Tobago reached 200. This gives us an average of just under one murder a day. And, unless this pattern is arrested, this country will have approximately 350 murders by year's end. That would actually make our murder rate higher than Jamaica's, which at present ranks third in the world.

Given that we live in a relatively wealthy country, the most astonishing aspect of this incredible number of murders has been the absolute inability of the authorities to take effective action. We have seen an increase in the number of police officers, heard from foreign crime experts, seen skytowers and skyships, gotten promises ad nauseam from politicians and still murders continue unabated. So perhaps the second most astonishing aspect is that not one person in authority has seen fit to resign over this lack of results.

Indeed, Trade Minister Ken Valley this week issued yet another promise. Even as he admitted that the murder rate had begun to affect investment, he gave the simultaneous assurance that crime would be reduced "within a matter of months." In saying this, Mr Valley did better than his political leader, since Prime Minister Patrick Manning is yet to give a definition of "temporary." We will, however, be taking Mr Valley at his word. If, by December, the crime rate has not dropped, we expect certainly not a resignation but at least a public admission from Mr Valley that he was wrong. We hope, of course, that Mr Valley knows whereof he speaks. But, in order to bring about a significant drop in crime by year's end, the Government must already have concrete measures in place. We have no idea what these might be. The authorities have remained typically close-mouthed about their initiatives. While some of this would be for obvious security reasons, we have the uneasy feeling that the reticence also reflects a lack of clear plans of action.

However, we expect, if the short timeframe offered by Mr Valley is realistic, that we will soon be seeing drastic action on at least two fronts. The first front is gang warfare. Eighty-five percent of the year's murders have been gun-related. Clearly, the young men who kill and have been killed have strong incentives to get guns, which means that no gun-amnesty initiative or public relations campaign is going to have much effect. However, it is quite possible to put in place security and economic measures which will make gun use less prevalent although we do not see how this can be done within a few months.

But criminals are only one side of the equation. The other side is the crime fighters, which is the second front on which this battle must be waged. It seems reasonable to assume that crime can not have gotten so bad without the cooperation or at least the incompetence of police officers. There have been loud calls for Police Commissioner Trevor Paul to take strong action against errant officers. After all, it is likely that officers who beat prisoners are also corrupt. Getting them out of the Service is therefore crucial to getting an upper hand on criminals. And it is here that the politicians must play their part, since expanding the Police Commissioner's powers, as well as beefing up the Police Complaints Authority, is a political task.

Whatever is done, it's best that it is done quickly. If the people in charge didn't know it before, the 200 murders should have sent them the message loud and clear this country has reached crisis point.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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