By Raffique Shah
February 20, 2019
Buried in the last paragraph of a document titled “Interim Gang Report 2018”, which was compiled by the Organised Crime and Intelligence Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and featured prominently in the last Sunday Express, was one of the main reasons why criminal gangs conduct their savagery with impunity, making a mockery of all attempts by new Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith to rein in their murderous rampage.
Said paragraph concludes: “…Extensive co-ordination between the TTPS and the T&T Prisons Service is crucial to expand investigations and gather intelligence to address the growing threat gangs pose to T&T.”
Growing threat? Bull. These gangsters, a mere 2,800 of them (if we accept the OCIU numbers), have terrorised the entire country using heavy armaments and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammunition. Whereas CoP Griffith’s mantra is “one shot, one kill”, theirs seems to be “multiple shots, many kills”.
To explain why I argue that this paragraph points to a core problem in the TTPS’ numerous attempts to stamp out gang activities, readers will note that the current clampdown by the Commissioner, during which some 280 gang leaders and members were arrested and detained, has already suffered setbacks when six of the men were released based on a court order. They had not been charged with any offences. We can reasonably assume that most of the arrested persons who can afford lawyers will walk without being charged over the next few days.
Reasons for their release have nothing to do with judges being “soft” on gangsters and criminals in general, or to lawyers’ lust for fat fees. The law says that unless the police charge an arrested person with an offence within a specific time (72 hours, I believe), they must release him—except during a state of emergency when that right (habeas corpus), among others, is suspended.
Clearly, when CoP Griffith decided to stem the killing spree that gangsters from certain districts had embarked upon, he gave little thought to whether or not the police had sufficient evidence to charge them with any offence. It seems to me he just wanted to disrupt their activities, however brief the respite from murders might be.
This brings me back to the report on gangs and its conclusion that the protective services needed to collaborate and “gather intelligence”. Except perhaps for the number of gangs and their geographical spread, the 2018 report adds nothing new, nothing that we did not know 20 years ago. The faces of the gangsters will have changed given the rate at which they are exterminating each other, and their weaponry upgraded. But what else is new?
It’s certainly not the intelligence gathering. In any war, including the campaign against armed gangsters, good intelligence is an absolute pre-requisite to taking action. A general never takes his troops into battle without good intelligence on the terrain, details of the enemy forces, etc. In the instant case, crime investigators, armed with virtual profiles on gangsters and their modus operandi, and having at their disposal an array of electronic monitoring devices and eyes-on-the-ground, can easier accumulate justiciable evidence that is necessary to nail the perpetrators of gangland murders and other serious crimes.
Good intelligence will also alert the Government and state agencies to gangsters trying to secure contracts, extort “protection” money from bona fide contractors, and working in cahoots with public officials, among them politicians, to pillage public funds. Such intelligence will provide investigators with leads so that they, in turn, can compile cogent evidence to arrest, convict and jail the gangsters and their collaborators, whatever high offices the latter may hold.
These elements seem to be missing from the current scenario: thousands of gangland murders over the past 10 years and only a handful of gangsters charged…note well, charged, not convicted.
In the 2018 OCIU report, the only intelligence its officers provided thus far are the names and numbers of gangsters and the districts from which they operate—which no judge can use to justify detaining them, nor can the Director of Public Prosecutions use it to charge them.
Back in 2011, when Griffith was the Minister of National Security in the People’s Partnership Government that declared a state of emergency over a similar murder-spree, I wrote a piece warning that they’d better have good cause for the detentions. They didn’t, and several detainees successfully sued the State, which was made to pay them hefty sums.
One might cynically say that in such instances, crime pays.
Look, all citizens, and even visitors to our shores, agree that we need to find ways to curb crime before it consumes the soul of the nation. Griffith’s no-nonsense approach to the problem since he became commissioner has impressed many people. Indeed, he has enjoyed some successes, especially with respect to a few kidnappings-for-ransom, and more recently, human trafficking.
But gangs as well as so-called white-collar criminals are a different breed: the kingpins believe they are untouchable. They wield inordinate influence in their habitats and skillfully exploit the wretched who see them as heroes, godfathers.
To successfully engage such criminals calls for a range of interventions—social, educational and economic initiatives being critical. There must also be reforms in the justice and penal systems, which will require all politicians to put the national interest first. In other words, when crime is politicised, only the criminals benefit.
Unless and until all interest-groups understand the importance of these prerequisites to winning the war against crime, Commissioner Griffith will be patching potholes rather than paving the path to a crime-under-control T&T.