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CoP: Anti-Gang Act, no magic formula for crime

Monday, May 28, 2018
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams. PICTURE ABRAHAM DIAZ

The Anti-Gang legislation takes effect today and while acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams admits it’s “another piece of tool in our tool kit so that we can go after gangs and members of gangs,” he is cautioning the public to temper their expectations.

“I just don’t want people to think, well, okay if its proclaimed on Monday come Tuesday evening everything will be right with the country, it’s just not something like that,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Already the Organised Crime and Intelligence Unit (OCIU) is reported to be keeping tabs on close to 2,500 suspected gang members across the country. Williams said the legislation will be a “major contributor” for the police in the fight against crime.

Williams said the legislation is a positive step. He congratulated both the Government and the Opposition “for coming together with a common goal of providing another piece of tool for the police service and also giving the country an opportunity to address a major long-standing problem that we are confronted with, that of violent crime.”

The acting Commissioner expects there will be “progress and improvement and consequently a drop in the violent crimes,” but was quick to caution “there is no magic formula.”

But he said it will be a “major contributor” to the work of the police,” as he lamented the rise in “the level of violence” in the country when there was no legislation.

“Check the period we have had the legislation and the period without and what has happened. There is an obvious co-relation that with the absence of the legislation the gangs become even more violent,” because you don’t have the necessary legislative authority to “affect and arrest them.”

In 2011, the then People’s Partnership government passed anti-gang legislation and more than 100 alleged gang members were arrested under a state of emergency in the face of a rising murder rate.

The anti-gang legislation also deals with police officers who have links or are affiliated with gang members, Williams said.

“For me, no worse criminal you can face is a police officer who is a criminal that is dishonouring your own and really turning on your fellow officers,” he said.

Williams said, “the officer who is a criminal is the one we should be going after in a more vicious way than any other criminal. He is the most dangerous of criminals.” The legislation, he said, gives the Police Service the opportunity “to go after those officers,” but he said it does not “take away from our effort right now in addressing some of the police officers who are criminals.”

Williams said in looking at the control of violence and crime the heads of National Security and other key law enforcement agencies meet on a regular basis to engage in discussions on how they can collaborate and find workable solutions.

Head of the Police Social and Welfare Association Michael Seales said the Anti-Gang legislation “is a turning point for the whole question of the administration of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago.”

His membership, he said, is “in high anticipation of some of the offences that have been spelt out.”

One such offence is the possession of a bullet proof vest.

“Long ago you could not arrest a person for a bullet proof vest but the mere possession of it is now something that can be considered gang legislation,” Seales said.


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