‘You will be punished’
By JULIEN NEAVES Wednesday, January 8 2014
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has described the 19 murders in seven days as “intolerable, horrific and horrendous” amid descriptions of this country as a “murder capital” even as she yesterday outlined a number of measures to combat the crime situation including the immediate removal of leave from police officers and a focus on domestic violence cases.
She was speaking during a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s following an emergency meeting of the National Security Commission (NSC).
Persad-Bissessar, NSC chairman, called the meeting in response to the recent spike in murders and violent crime.
“Since the start of this year, one week ago, our nation has seen an unprecedented spike in violence and murder. This spike occurred despite increasing efforts in focusing resources, implementation, modified equipment, new technology and police visibility,” she said.
She questioned the NSC members: “Why is this happening and what can we do to ensure that it is stopped?”.
She said the recent spike in violence and murders has made the crime situation “completely intolerable” and the people of the country demanded action and results.
“As Prime Minister and as chairman of the NSC we will no longer tolerate excuses for failure by our protective and security services to keep our country safe,” she added.
She noted that she will be taking deeper interest in the actions required in her role as NSC chairman.
She instructed all heads of protective services to operate at full capacity and informed them that they “will be held personally accountable”. Questioned what that meant and whether they would be fired for non-performance she responded that is a “matter for the law” and spoke no further on the issue.
Questioned whether the National Security Minister will also be held accountable Persad- Bissessar pointed out that the minister cannot micro-manage the security agencies but is only responsible for what falls under his remit.
She stressed that she will be accepting no excuses or apologies, reiterating that the people want results now.
She also said whatever they have to do to defeat the criminals they will do it.
To the criminals she declared: “We will find you and you will be punished.”
Earlier yesterday Persad-Bissessar toured the National Operations Centre at Knowsley Building, Queen’s Park West, Port-of-Spain. She noted this was the first time there was a coordinating agency for all arms of law enforcement and expressed confidence that they will combat crime in a harmonised way. She was shown various screens streaming live camera footage from various areas in the East/West Corridor.
She was also on hand for the launch of the new Rapid Response Unit (RRU) and encouraged citizens to dial 999 or 991 to report any suspicious activities. Persad-Bissessar noted that she telephoned the number and received an answer on the second ring, and expressed hope that all calls will be responded to similarly on such a timely basis.
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams reported that there are 77 vehicles dedicated to the RRU but 22 will be deployed initially as part of the pilot project in the Northern Division, North Eastern Division and the Western Division. He pointed out that the East West Corridor is the area of greatest need and there was already a regime in the Port of Spain Division.
He also spoke on the Duncan Street Police Post noting that there are a “few adjustments” being made and it will be fully occupied “shortly”.
On the spike in murders he said they will implement measures that will have a turnaround immediately and they will do everything possible to improve the detection rate, which did improve between 2012 and 2013.
Chief of Defence Staff Kenrick Maharaj described the spate of murders as “not really a comforting situation” and reiterated the commitment to working with the police.
At the NSC briefing, Persad-Bissessar noted there will be a greater collaborative effort between the Police Service and Defence Force to combat crime. She reported that the Police Service will engage “persons of interest”, keep an eye on them and “lock down their activities”.
She also announced that Williams has advised that with immediate effect all leave will be restricted in the Police Service to “have all hands on deck in the fight against crime”. She noted that this is being done from the top to the bottom of the service.
She said putting more police on the ground alone will not solve the problem of 19 murders in seven days but they have several other initiatives including more use of physical resources, the RRU, the NOC and new dogs for the K9 unit.
She noted she was not satisfied with 19 murders in seven days and even one murder, “is one murder too many”.
She noted that there will be special emphasis on the fight against domestic violence and all police stations will work in tandem with the Ministry of the People and Social Development and the Ministry of Gender to provide safe houses for victims of domestic violence.
“Once reports come in they will no longer be treated as run of the mill domestic violence reports but will be given the special consideration that they deserve,” she said. She noted that if the person needs to be removed to safe houses the police will liaise with the respective ministries.
She said at the Cabinet level they have agreed that more safe houses need to be built and there is approval for several to be constructed. She noted that in the interim they will consider looking at accommodation for rental or lease purposes.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Glenn Hackett said there will be training and sensitisation of officers to deal with domestic violence cases in a “humane way” and in a manner that is fully supportive of the victim. He also noted that with removing victims to safe houses they also will ensure that the environment which they are being removed from is “stabilised”.
Persad-Bissessar noted that serious crimes are down by 28 percent compared to last year and they have made a dent in crime but murders remain a challenge.
“I will not be fazed by the challenges of these last few days,” she stressed.
Questioned about the classification of murders by criminal activity or law abiding citizens, which had been done by the police and referred to by National Security Minister Gary Griffith, she noted that the disaggregation assisted in better combatting the murders. She noted however that a “crime is a crime” and the police will not concentrate only on some murders and not others.
On calls for a return to the death penalty with the spike in murders, Persad-Bissessar responded that Government brought a bill to expedite the implementation of the death penalty but it was not supported by the Opposition and until the Opposition changes that position they cannot implement it.
She noted some people view the death penalty as a “panacea” for the crime situation while others view it as a plaster on a sore.
Persad-Bissessar also echoed the words of Fr Gregory Augustine, who spoke yesterday at the funeral for Newsday Chairman/CEO and Editor-in-Chief Therese Mills, that no matter how bad things in the country get we should never give up.
“Mrs Mills was a lady like that,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar noted that similarly she will never give up until “we stem and curb crime in this country.”
An unidentified man was shot and killed on the Arima to Port-of-Spain taxi stand last night. Up to press time police officers were still at the scene of what is the country’s 20th murder for the year.