(CMC) – The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) says it will be adopting new strategies to deal with the escalating rival gangs and civilian shootings that have claimed the lives of more than 360 people so far this year. Last year, Trinidad and Tobago recorded 450 murders.
Acting Police Commissioner, McDonald Jacob, expressing concern with the upsurge in violent crimes in the past weeks, the majority of which he attributed to gang rivalry, said that the TTPS is moving to increase its visibility by immediately recalling all officers from vacation leave, restricting leave for the time being and adjusting the duty roster.
“In most places, we have officers who will work from 8 am to 6 pm, and then from 6 pm to 8 am, so that is two days and then they get two days off. They will now be required to work 24/48. The task forces that worked 24/48 are now required to work 24/24,” he told a news conference Tuesday.
Jacob said the additional manpower is expected to immediately boost the operational capabilities of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF); Guard & Emergency Branch (GEB) and general task forces in each division.
“As the situation escalated within the last few days, we have now restricted leave for all police officers and we have doubled up the manner in which officers are working in five police divisions,” Jacob said, adding that the new arrangements were specifically designed, “to get additional boots on the ground.”
He acknowledged that the 364 murders recorded so far this year follows a “new trend” in “that in order to carry out the high level of reprisal from one gang to the other, they started to target each other in what we call neutral spaces throughout Trinidad and Tobago”
He said these neutral spaces include places such as nightclubs and sporting venues and urged the public to comply with officers during increased activities, which will include roadblocks and other policing activities.
“In an effort to remedy the situation with the help of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, we have increased operations in relation to these zones of special concern so we opted to bring out 60 officers from vacation leave to help monitor these open spaces,” he said.
Jacob said 87 per cent of the killings for the year so far was a result of gun violence. He said the police have seized 408 firearms for the year so far and charged over 1,000 persons for gun-related offences.
But he said he is worried that while an estimated 61 high-powered weapons were seized in 2021, so far this year, 60 have been seized and out of 21 shootings with high-powered rifles, 55 persons were killed and another 18 wounded.
“This is creating serious issues for us, the police and the general public,” Jacob said, noting that the authorities had compelling and cogent evidence detailing just how illegal weapons were making their way from North America into the country via legal ports of entry.
He said the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has a field office here and was already working alongside its local counterparts. Jacob so far several guns seized in Trinidad have been traced back to US locations such as Miami, Georgia, Baltimore and Texas.
He said in June 2021 and February 2022 guns were seized from a courier bond in Central Trinidad, while in 2019 a dual United States/Trinidad and Tobago citizen was charged in Georgia for smuggling 36 guns into the country.
“When we seize these guns traced to the US, our partners work on the other end to identify the shippers and charge them,” he said.
Jacob said that gang members can now be found in all areas, including illegal quarrying; drug running; human trafficking; trading illegal firearms; land grabbing and home invasions.
He said the data showed young people between the ages of 16 and 34 who were murdered last year stood at 210, while so far for 2022, 165 people in this category had already been killed.
In 2021, 55 people between 16 and 34 years were charged for murder, while 36 have so far been charged with murder this year.
“We are more than losing a generation,” he warned, adding that fathers were abandoning their children, making it easy for a gang leader to recruit them.
“We have so many maintenance warrants for people who are not seeing about their children,” he said, suggesting that the police may need to visit the workplaces of some of these men and encourage their employers to urge the non-paying employee to do so.
“Pay your maintenance, mind your children, see about your home because what you are doing is creating an avenue for gang leaders to play a part in your child’s life,” said Jacob.