Multi-agency approach aims to deter youth from a life of crime

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File photo: Dr. Keith Rowley.

THE Prime Minister said on Monday the crime would be treated as a public health emergency to deter young people, speaking at the briefing at St Ann’s Diplomatic Centre.

He said a new anti-crime plan was being drawn up and now was the time to act.

Lamenting a dramatic escalation in crime, he lamented “the impudence, audacity and impunity” involving guns, gangs and hitmen.

He said that during the weekend Cabinet retreat, he and National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds left the Cabinet to meet with Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob as well as the heads of the defense forces. Rowley said he was pleased the police, defense force and Strategic Services Agency (SSA) were all at work.

Deploring that crime is fueled by the illegal exploitation of quarries, he promised to curb these activities.

“The government intends to declare violent crime a public health problem.”

The effort will be led by the Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries of Social Development and Health, and will involve the Prime Minister’s Office, the Police Department, the Tobago House of Assembly and the Ministries of National Security, Sports and education.

He said work has begun, through discussions and document collection.

Rowley promised to develop a national action plan, guided by a public health approach, to define the problem.

“We will identify the causes and risk factors. We will design a response and we will test the interventions that we will do and we will implement and scale up effective interventions and we will support continuous evaluation.

“The goal here is to get into the youth population at different levels and start a line of education that should steer people away from involvement or being desensitized to crime and criminal activity.” He hoped to “generate a wave of people” who would reject crime at the level of themselves, their homes, their schools and their communities.

“In short, we will prepare a better citizenship.

“We are operationalizing a response to what is effectively a crisis.”

He said the Department of Health and others would advise and engage the public.

Rowley said Caricom countries will pool resources to address this issue.

Newsday asked about his hopes for this initiative in relation to Professor Selwyn Ryan’s 2013 report, No Time To Quit: Engaging Youth At Risk, as well as the 2020 community recovery program led by Dr Anthony Watkins to combat the discrimination, lawlessness, pain and anger, in at-risk communities.

The Prime Minister replied: “I’m not talking about reports. I’m talking about action.

“One of the things we want to do is to train our young people in such a way that they will be guided away from a violent life and a violent future, either as victims or as perpetrators.”

Newsday asked about the parameters of the initiative, such as the influence of family breakdown, Boy Scouts and the church.

He said the various ministries would each contribute their share to address the challenges at the level of a child, a school, a household and a police district.

“Can we do something? What is the nature of the problem?

“It’s a pretty big, broad tapestry of action. The goal is to extract criminal behavior, criminal conduct, from people’s lives. But to do that, you can’t leave a vacuum. It has to be replaced by something else.

Asked about the initiative’s budget, he replied: “We will answer it when we see what the program is. I hope that we will be able to find reasonable resources to carry out the interventions that could result from this action plan. He said the plan could attract international funding.

Regarding ongoing crime, he said the government was maintaining resources for police officers dealing with crime.

“We have a serious criminal element in our country – very well armed, very well supported.”

In May, Newsday reported that the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) report for 2021, as presented to Parliament, said younger, more violent gang leaders were killing an older leader, using music dancehall as a recruitment tool.

“Newer, younger and more violent leaders are emerging and existing gangs are falling apart with a level of animosity towards each other,” the SSA report said.

“These events, coupled with branding and association with conflicting styles of music and artists, also encourage the violence that ensues.”

The splintering of gangs in hotspot communities could lead to the emergence of new gangs, with new symbols and greater social media presence, all putting a strain on law enforcement personnel.

“These new gangs are expected to be more volatile as they attempt to establish themselves, leading to an increase in murders, injuries, shootings and other violent crimes,” the report said.

Naparima MP Rodney Charles in a later statement chastised Rowley’s remarks after Cabinet amid 300 murders in just under 200 days.

Charles said Rowley had clearly thrown in the towel on crime-fighting and handed the country over to the criminals.

“Today we listened in vain to the Prime Minister’s press conference, hoping to hear some sort of concrete plan to deal with a crime crisis that is spiraling out of control.”

Charles said Rowley had shown himself to be “blind, oblivious and oblivious” to the causes of crime and how to finally bring the rising murder rate under control.

He said in 2017 the prime minister promised to use “all available resources and avenues” to tackle crime.

“If the last five years have been the government’s attempts to use every resource and avenue, God help us.

“The Prime Minister has proven throughout his seven years in office that he is utterly clueless, utterly incompetent and overwhelmed.”

Charles urged Rowley and Hinds to resign and even offered to help draft a resignation letter for the Prime Minister.

“Citizens are tired of hearing Minister Hinds and Prime Minister Rowley say the same thing in conference after conference, reciting the same to-do lists over and over again. What we need are results.”

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