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Raffique Shah


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Emergency notes

By Raffique Shah
Sep 11, 2011

The best crime-fighting measures emerging from the Emergency thus far are the medium-term initiatives Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced when she wound up the motion that saw Parliament extend the State of Emergency for three months. The Selwyn Ryan committee that will look at curbing criminality, the case-flow-management team of attorneys, the proposed amnesty for minor offences and the possible release from prison of convicts who no longer pose a threat to society, if aggressively pursued, would yield more benefits to the society than the steep drop in crimes during the Emergency.

The challenge will be whether the various committees and teams are allowed to function effectively. Politicians have a way of making grandiose plans and appointing the best people to formulate them. But they fail to lend adequate support as the committees get down to work. Worse, if the recommendations do not find favour with Government, they are unceremoniously cast aside.

I need add that some of these measures were touted by the Patrick Manning administration—abolition of preliminary enquiries, reconstruction of East Port of Spain, rehabilitation units in the prisons, to name three. Somehow, they got lost along the way as criminals grew in stature and communities came under siege.

Will this Government allow preventative measures and restorative justice to replace the punitive systems that have helped spawn more criminals thus far? I can only hope they will. Because if they fail, if at the end of the time-limited SoE we see nothing new, it would be only a matter of time before we return to the savagery of yesterday.

I should like to add my two-cents-worth to the initiatives already announced. I have long queried why magistrates and judges insist on jailing drug addicts, except when they commit serious crimes. Besides negatively affecting overcrowded prisons, we are dealing with a revolving-door phenomenon. They enter today, are released two months later, only to return again and again.

Government must consider setting up some properly policed rehabilitation centres, preferably in Chacachacare or one of the other islands. It will cost us some, but the long-term savings will be worth it.

There is also an urgent need to flush the prisons of petty offenders in order to save them from becoming hardened criminals, and to make room for savages who are beyond redemption. I know that prison is a "crime factory". I have been there, seen how it works, so I write with authority. The electro-nic monitoring devices Government proposes to introduce offer a window for addressing this option.

Regarding the judicial system, the population needs to know why certain lethal offenders sit in jail for years, "calling shots" on witnesses and associates on the outside as they await snail-paced-justice. Is there not a prioritising procedure that can see such matters dispensed with in short order?

I have read about, and listened to, some victims of police and army emergency powers, and they are frightening. One radio personality, who is on air and available to the police anytime they choose, reported how he was picked up last week, in the dead of night, thrown into a cell and spent 12 hours in custody—for a $200 traffic offences ticket he had not paid. He said that a fire officer was similarly treated, as were four persons who had failed to pay child-maintenance money.

They were in a crowded cell with at least one murder accused, and they were not told why until long after they had been dragged from their homes.

Several other persons who were not arrested or charged with any offence were badly beaten by police officers or soldiers. Yet others "disappeared" after being arrested.

Surely, Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs and Brigadier Kenrick Mahabir cannot be proud of their charges who acted, and continue to act, like hoodlums. If you use emergency powers to arrest persons for petty offences, that's tantamount to abuse! Come on! You can do better if you want to play the numbers game.

On another note, my colleagues in the media are going overboard reporting on "high-powered" guns found or seized by the police or army. All guns are deadly—from a .22 pistol to a .9mm sub-machine gun and a 7.62mm rifle. So every firearm recovered means one fewer gun in the hands of criminals. I have said, from the start of the SoE, I'd prefer the armed forces seize 1,000 firearms and arrest 100 gangsters than the other way round.

Still, let's stop the sensationalism. Reports of sniper's weapons and long-range, rapid-fire guns recovered can be misleading. Do we know of a single case in this country in which a rifle was used from 1,000 metres to murder someone? Not one! Those jokers would miss their targets from beyond 20 metres!

Is there evidence of criminals using rapid-fire weapons in their murderous exploits? One newspaper reported that the police found a "gun capable of firing 1,000 rounds a minute". Only a GPMG, or similar medium machine gun, has that capability.

My knowledge of weapons tells that a sub-machine gun may have been used in the killing-spree in Arima that triggered the SoE. Have the police recovered that weapon? I think not. Ballistics, combined with forensic examinations of the victims' corpses, can tell. Go after guns like that.

Regarding the arms cache found in Las Cuevas, clearly, those rusted .303 rifles and assorted guns are now useless. It would be informative, though, to learn where they came from and who buried them there. The .303 rifle was the standard personal weapon in the Defence Force up to 1966, and in the Police Service until 1970.

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