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Early Anti-Gang hiccup
The recent passing of the Anti-Gang Legislation may have stumped the intelligence gathering and investigative work of the T&T Police Service, forcing them to return to the drawing board on cases being made against key members of the criminal element. This is because officers cannot use information previously gathered on individuals before the bill was passed and assented to retroactively charge and prosecute them in the court today.
This was the startling disclosure made by acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams during a joint media conference with the National Security Edmund Dillon and T&T Defence Force (TTDF) Chief of Defence Staff Hayden Pritchard yesterday at the Ministry of National Security in Port-of-Spain.
Williams pointed out the flaw when he was asked how successful the police had been in making significant inroads into the apprehension any gang members or persons involved in gang-related activities since the bill’s passage. The bill was proclaimed on May 28.
“We have learnt lessons of the past…while we do in fact have clear indicators as to persons who are involved in criminal activities and gang-related activities in T&T, we cannot go in a retrospective way and take evidence from the past and make a case out in the present,” Williams said.
He added: “That is part of the failure of the past…2011, when we did that most of the cases went down the drain.”
Williams, however, assured that they were currently building up cases against many people to ensure that when they do act in future, everything will be in place to take the entire process to the end.
“In the very near future you would see several persons being effectively prosecuted under the Anti-Gang Act,” Williams said.
Just after the bill was proclaimed, however, Williams, in an interview with the T&T Guardian, had disclosed that the Organised Crime and Intelligence Unit (OCIU) was keeping tabs on close to 2,500 suspected gang members across the country. He then described the legislation as a “major contributor” for the police in the fight against crime, adding he expected there would be “progress and improvement and consequently a drop in the violent crimes.” He did, however, also point out then that “there is no magic formula” to the crime problem.
In 2011, the then People’s Partnership government passed anti-gang legislation and more than 100 alleged gang members were arrested under a state of emergency in the face of a rising murder rate. However, all of these individuals were subsequently released and the state has been paying out millions of dollars in payments for the wrongful arrest of these individuals.
Williams and Dillon also condemned Sunday’s brazen attack at the Chaguaramas Boardwalk that left three people dead and three injured, including an eight-year-old boy. Williams assured the case would be solved and all the resources needed will be provided to homicide investigators.
In seeking to allay fears of the citizenry, especially youngsters, about visiting public recreational spaces during July/August vacation period in the wake of the attack, Dillon said there will be a collaborative heightened security measure between the police and soldiers, where they will be posted in malls, shopping centres, beaches and popular liming strips at Ariapita Avenue and St James. He also said that there will be round-the-clock aerial patrols by the Strategic Services Agency helicopters.
Williams also assured there will be an increase in stop and search exercises and roadblocks in a bid to relieve criminals of guns. He said police officers had seized 552 illegal guns so far this year, which was more than the same period last year. He said last year police seized a total 1,064 firearms.
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