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Raffique Shah


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Crime shift from urban to rural districts

By Raffique Shah
December 13, 2009

I wish I could take comfort in the marginal drop in the number of murders this year when compared with last year, the way Acting Commissioner James Philbert does. At a recent year-end function, (Acting) Assistant Commissioner Gilbert Reyes sought to assure citizens that soon we shall not only hear talk about further crime-cuts, but we shall have less crime to talk and write about.

The latter may be good news for the citizenry, but not-so-good for members of the media. True, over the past year editors have grown so bored with murders, they have relegated the daily dosages to the inside pages of newspapers or lower down the order in electronic newscasts. Mad-dog murderers who had hoped to enhance their fearsome reputations through media exposure must be seriously reconsidering their options.

Those of us who are tuned in to what's happening at grounds zero are painfully aware that in areas where people are inured to crime, the dons also control the prima donnas. In fact, they control everything-who comes and goes when and where, who qualifies for non-molestation and who must be quarantined, where to impose curfews, and so on. Of course for as long as they awaken to see a new dawn, they believe they are not just invincible, they are immortal.

So they thrive on their notoriety. And while the police may have had a hand in lowering the numbers, I wonder if it isn't that these fellas are running out of targets. Some time ago National Security Minister Martin Joseph said he knew exactly how many gangs there were: he gave a precise number that I do not now recall. If that was close to the truth, then with some 1,500 murders over the past three years, we can assume that if 70 per cent of these were gang-related, the gangs are now severely depleted in numbers.

That may well account for the drop in the numbers of gang-related murders. On the surface that may seem to be a good thing. Beneath it, though, lies an insidious prospect. While gang-warfare may be diminishing for lack of ready targets, the evil that lives in the hearts of these criminals has not diminished. I have heard some chilling stories, as I imagine other would have, too.

In several violent robberies, after the victims are relieved of their possessions and the 'capo' decides to move on, most likely to seek out other victims, some junior member of the posse shouts: Leh mih kill she, nah!...ah never kill yet. In one case, I read where the wannabe-killer told his leader: Leh mih shoot 'im ah want to hear 'im beg me for he life!

It gets worse. Women are very much part of the crime networks. A few years ago a friend of mine was carjacked when he pulled into a St James gas station to inflate his tyres. He felt cold steel against his temple, metres away from the pumps where cars were being fuelled. No one noticed when the bandit ordered him to drive to a location in Woodbrook where an accomplice was waiting to join his partner in crime.

To sum up the story, he was driven to somewhere in Morvant (by which time he had been bundled into the trunk) where they picked up a woman. He could hear them talking and the woman cackling. They drove to a remote district in the east where they stopped. The two men beat him, relieved him of his valuables then ordered him to run which he was relieved to do. His only concern was that they would shoot after him. They didn't. But he clearly heard the woman tell the men: Shoot 'im! Shoot 'im nah kill the - .!

Ever so often we hear of women being part of criminal activities, sometimes gruesome murders. Only last week two brothers in south, chasing some bandits who had robbed their home, found the driver of the getaway car was a woman. Worse for them, the police let the female criminal go free and arrested the victim! I trust that Mr Philbert will have dealt with that act of rank stupidity by immediately suspending the culprit, without pay, of course.

What I am getting at is as the criminals run out of easy targets in their 'hoods, they would seek out easier ones near or far from where they normally operate. Already we have noticed a shift in violent robberies from the urban areas into rural districts. I do not believe the increase in crimes in Tobago is coincidence. Criminals always look for easy targets-it's a basic rule they teach in crime-schools.

So while ACP Reyes assures us that soon there will be less crime, I wonder if the experienced lawman and his colleagues have looked at this grim shift in focus. Bear in mind, too, that while the murder rate has slowed, the recovery of illegal firearms has also slowed. Criminals have more guns than the police and army combined.

Will they now train these weapons on hapless, unarmed citizens, seeing the depletion of targets in their own ranks? It's a frightening thought. But it's a fearsome and all-too-plausible prospect.

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