Psiquiatra Pedro Loyo//
Murders again cross 500

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Murders again cross 500

With five days left in 2019, this year is poised to make history as the second most violent year on record.

Pedro Loyo

It marks the fourth time that the murder toll has crossed the 500 mark — with 550 homicides being recorded in 2008, 509 in 2009, and 516 in 2018

Yet, despite this high number (527 up to press time last night) and the fact that it is the second consecutive year that the murder toll has reached such a high figure, this year will be remembered for many other incidents, including the decriminalisation of marijuana (personal possession of 30 grammes and less), as well as the “rescues” of more than 200 detained persons throughout the country – 69 people (65 men and four women) from a church in Arouca, as well as 19 Spanish-speaking girls, between the ages 15 and 17, from a businessplace on Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook, among others

Sexual offences

Police conducted exercises which saw women, usually of South American nationalities, being detained. In several of those cases, allegations were being made that these women were being forced into prostitution

In early February, officers of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) conducted a raid at Stir Fry King Restaurant, on Ariapita Avenue, as well as other locations in Port of Spain and the Western Division, which resulted in 19 girls being found who were allegedly being held against their will

A Venezuelan woman and a Chinese male national were later arrested and charged with several sexual offences

In April, four Venezue­lan women who were held cap­tive at Union Road, Four Roads, Diego Martin, were found in a house which had been painted in the distinctive colours of a police sta­tion, with the de­sign of the Star of David on the gates

Three men in their mid-20s were held in this incident

In October, at Transformed Life Ministries, on Eastern Main Road, Arouca, police conducted an operation where they removed 69 persons from that facility

Police said they were all being held captive, in unfit conditions

Most were in cages and some were in handcuffs

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith used the terms “hu­man traf­fick­ing” and “mod­ern-day slav­ery” while being interviewed

Although this terminology brought the story international attention, it has been disputed by legal professionals

Since then, several persons, including the ministry’s pastor, Glen Awong, have been questioned, all denying allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing, and no one has yet been charged

In late November, 55 Latin American females, some in their early teens, believed to be part of a sex-trafficking ring, were at a bar located on Southern Main Road, Enterprise, where police executed an early morning raid

Murder toll continues to rise

Griffith, upon taking office as the head of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), on August 17, 2018, told the public to judge him, and to judge his performance, on the murder toll

At the end of last year, the toll was the highest it had been in a decade

And this year the figure has surpassed that

Speaking with the Express on December 6, when the toll crossed the 500-murder mark with the killing of a 12-year-old boy at Lady Chancellor Hill, the Commissioner said blame could not solely be placed at the feet of the Police Service, assuring that his men and women were doing all they could to win the “war” against crime, with weapons of war such as AR-15s and AK-47s being seized in operations throughout Trinidad and Tobago

Griffith stated that members of the legal fraternity should share the blame, and cast light on lawyers defending “known criminals”, as well as magistrates granting bail to persons charged with serious crimes, such as possession of multiple high-powered firearms

Up to Christmas Eve (December 24), Griffith repeated these assertions when addressing 34 police officers who were promoted during a ceremony at Police Administration Building in Port of Spain

He encouraged his officers to continue to work hard and not be deterred by the high murder toll, again saying that other organisations needed to share the blame

He noted that the influx of Venezuelan nationals would have contributed to the increase in murders, pointing out that there was information that at least 30 homicides could be linked to that scenario

Making strides

And in early December, Minister of National Security Stuart Young stood up to bat for the TTPS and said it was unfair to gauge the performance of police officers on murders alone

Speaking at a post-Cabinet media briefing, Young said the Police Service had made several strides in other areas of crime-fighting and there were reductions in several serious reports, including shootings, robberies, and larcenies

“You can’t just look at the homicide rate and judge the Police Service. There is a perception of crime and there is crime. And I think any sensible and straight-minded citizen will accept that a lot has been going on in the sphere of fighting crime,” said Young

But many citizens would take him to task, pointing out that the ever-increasing number of murders is what should be used to judge the success or failure of the Police Service

And at 527, there is no relief in sight