PM LEADS CRIME FIGHT
By Sasha Harrinanan Saturday, February 23 2013
Taking full command of the crime fight, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday summoned the heads of the nation’s security forces to a special meeting of the National Security Council to hammer out strategies to arrest the murder spree, in which 19 people were killed this past week.
“We had a very intense meeting...and we have reached agreement on certain measures to take immediate effect with respect to dealing with what seems to be an upsurge in crime, mainly murders,” Persad-Bissessar declared.
Immediately, there are to be more joint patrols by soldiers and police officers, more foot, mobile patrols of police officers as well as increased air surveillance. The Prime Minister is also proposing tough legislative measures: no bail for firearm and drug possession, as well as setting out mandatory sentences for these crimes.
Her plans were announced on a day when two more murders took place in Malick and Laventille, the latest in a killing spree this week which included the beheading of an ex-prisoner. The head was left on a bar table in La Romaine.
Persad-Bissessar was away in Haiti for a Caricom meeting to address crime-fighting strategies for the region when the country was rocked by the murders, and on her return on Thursday night assured security operations would be intensified, noting plans to precept the country’s 5,000 soldiers.
Following her return, she called yesterday’s urgent security meeting which took place at a conference room in the Office of the Parliament, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain.
After the 45-minute meeting, which began at about 2 pm, Persad-Bissessar held a brief press conference where Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj and Brigadier General Anthony Phillip Spencer sat to her left with National Security Minister Jack Warner, Housing Minister/ Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal and National Security Adviser Gary Griffith on the right.
Persad-Bissessar first observed “murders appear to be spiking”, before announcing more security patrols in the country.
“I’m advised by the Commissioner (of Police) that serious crimes are down from last year to this year for this point in time. However, the murders appear to be spiking.
“So what we’ve asked, and agreed upon, is for there to be increased visibility of joint (army/police) patrols throughout Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.It is expected that more roadblocks and searches in communities would be carried out. Already, there were two such exercises in Beetham and Bon Air Gardens, Arouca earlier this week.
The Prime Minister also announced legislative measures which would target the drugs and arms trade proposing no bail for these crimes.
“We have received proposals from the team here for legislative interventions in the arena of drugs, possession of drugs and possession of firearms. The proposal is that we make both those offences non-bailable offences and...that we consider changing discretionary sentencing to mandatory sentencing for possession of drugs in quantities and possession of firearms,” Persad- Bissessar stated. The latter means that magistrates and judges would have to impose set sentences on persons found guilty of drugs and firearm crimes, as is the case for murders and treason in which the mandatory penalty is death by hanging.
Persad-Bissessar assured the legislative proposals “could be done in a relatively short space of time” and would be given “serious consideration.”
Government’s plan to pass stiffer penalties for drug offences follows major drug busts between January 9 to February 16 in which an estimated $28 million in marijuana and cocaine seizures/crop destruction exercises took place.
The two most valuable seizures occurred on January 14 and 15. In the first case, Coast Guard officers seized 26 kilos of cocaine, worth $10.6 million, off the coast of Chacachacare. A German national and a Scottish national were arrested in connection with the seizure.
While on January 15, officers from the Western Division Task Force seized 813 kilos of marijuana, worth $8.5 million, in Petit Valley. No arrests were made in that case. After the meeting, Williams confirmed patrols would be immediately stepped up. “We have increased visibility but we’ll have a further increase from today,” Williams told Newsday.
A few hours later, scores of police officers were carrying out searches of vehicles conducted on the overpass of the Beetham Highway, Port-of-Spain.