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Criminal power and law enforcement

The trinidad Guardian / Over the past few weeks, several events, which have a common thread, were highlighted by the media.

The National Security Ministry and the Police Service have advocated community engagement as a core strategy in the fight against crime. But unless people who committed crimes are arrested and prosecuted then community engagement strategies will come to naught. Put bluntly; law enforcement is central to the fight against crime including corruption, and the only decisive and sustainable way among other relevant strategies to keep crime down.

How are the following events linked?

The first is a statement reportedly made by a senior prison officer during a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee hearing on Human Rights that “Out of Evil Cometh Good.”

He credited prison overcrowding to a significant reduction in prison rapes. That remark speaks volumes about mindset, criminality, prison conditions and governance. The statement goes to the ugly core of overcrowded jails as breeding grounds, which spit out more angry and hardened criminals than rehabilitating them.

At the same hearing, an officer said that “politics” get in the way of passing legislation in a timely manner. True, but would more laws ensure efficiency, competence and accountability? Granted we need enlightened policies anchored in law, but that will not solve systemic and endemic human resources weaknesses. Was anyone held accountable when three prisoners used grenades and guns, killed a police officer and an inmate, and made a jailbreak in July 2015?

The next situation is the killing and targeting of prison officers. Will the murderers be brought to justice?

Next, we learned that a gang leader mounted surveillance cameras on T&TEC property, presumably, to get warnings when enemies or the police are entering his jurisdiction (my word). According to media reports, the police removed two illegal cameras from poles in El Socorro as a result of a “tip-off”. Proof that citizens can help in the fight against crime unless, of course, it was a rival gangster who had squealed.

Tongue-in-cheek aside, reportedly, police officers assisted by T&TEC removed the electronic spies and the police went to the home of a “known” gangster and found cameras there. Those cameras might not represent evidence against the person. Did the police exercise due care when they were removing the cameras to facilitate forensic investigations toward getting prosecutorial evidence? If not, to what end are citizens’ time and efforts?

Another report featured Clifton Street Towers where citizens live in fear of criminals. Allegedly, the offenders threatened and chased away HDC employees when they went to assist lawful occupants. We have heard similar stories over the years. When will the trauma suffered by law-abiding citizens in their HDC homes end?

We learned that gang leaders have “demanded” they get HDC contracts. The public is aware of the longstanding relationship between “community leaders” and successive governments. Perhaps, there is a paradigm shift on the part of the present Government whose predecessors laundered the image of gang leaders by branding them “community leaders”.

The common thread in all of these situations is the deficiency in law enforcement, which brings me to the concept of moral hazard. It describes the risk when criminals know they are unlikely to be arrested and prosecuted. Usually, they have some level of power over their targets and victims.

Crime equals power minus detection, prosecution and accountability.

How do they get power? By creating fear when they threaten to kill officers and making good on those threats. The total gangs’ membership is high in relation to first-line defenders-the police. They are well armed. Police officers’ needs are not met, and morale in the Police Service is low.

When criminals have infiltrated critical arms of the judicial system. If as said by the Police Service, “joint responsibility and partnerships are crucial for success” then it follows that law enforcers must demonstrate they are capable of bringing offenders to justice.

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