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Trinidad and Tobago opposition leader outlines compressive plan to address crime crisis


Dear Sir:

Leader of the opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, on Friday, February 28, presented the United National Congress (UNC) plan to address the crime crisis, upon the party’s return to government, speaking during a Private Motion Bill in parliament.

“We all want a safe and secure nation, but what we’ve seen over the last four years is a government that has no clue, no concept on what to do; but what is worse – a government that lacks the political will to fix it,” the opposition leader said.

“Today, citizens no longer feel safe. Almost daily, we wake to news of some heinous crime being committed, another innocent life lost,” she noted. “The fear felt by citizens is real, it is palpable, and this government has offered no hope to citizens for a reprieve.”

“The government has failed its mandate to protect the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said. “All they can do is blame – they have no plan to fix the problems facing us.

United National Congress (UNC): Security master plan

Excerpts from the leader of the opposition presentation on the Private Motion in parliament, and inclusive of the UNC – security master plan  includes:

  • Restructuring of the ministry of national security – splitting into a ministry of home affairs and a ministry of defence;
  • An increase in retirement age for the Trinidad and Tobago defence force to bring it in line with other arms of the protective services;
  • Diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in policing for recruits combined with a police apprenticeship program;
  • Pre-Trial detention and bail reform;
  • A fund to provide support to children who have lost one or both parents to crime.

Restructuring of the minister of national security

The present system is flawed and cannot adapt to the demands of securing a nation via a ministry of national security; to be split into the ministry of home affairs and a ministry of defence.

Ministry of home affairs

This ministry will deal primarily with internal law enforcement and involves the focus on policing, to ensure that the deterrent is provided and involving action before the crime is committed. It also involves a law enforcement response, detection if the crime is committed and apprehension. Such measures include all aspects of policing, surveillance, use of electronic security, and proper intelligence gathering, as well as major aspects to internal security, such as fire and prisons services. This ministry also includes maintenance of law and order, safety and security of citizens.

The ministry of defence

Based on the critical need for protection of borders from the illegal entry of drugs, weapons and human trafficking, and the worldwide increasing concern of terrorism, there needs to be a specific ministry to deal with the security of our nation from these matters that can cripple a nation.

The ministry of defence would be a newly established ministry that is mandatory, based on the new threats and clear and present danger that all nations face both in border protection, and problems encountered with illegal entry of weapons, drugs,  and human trafficking, hence the focus on proper border protection, and established network to work with our international allies in Intelligence and joint operations, and also the critical aspect of policies to deal with terrorist activities both in prevention and immediate action if it ever arises.

A ministry of defence, which would incorporate the defence force, immigration and customs to handle border control, as well as specific Units to deal with terrorist activity would now come under this ministry, due to the critical importance of border protection and terrorism as something so important, that this cannot be placed under the umbrellas of a ministry of national security that is also faced with the equal importance of law enforcement and protection of our citizens on a daily basis from crime.

Based on emerging trends in national security, especially the importance of border protection and terrorism, it is recommended that national security be then restructured as follows:

The ministry of national security would be split into two separate ministries, to deal with primary crime prevention [law enforcement, deterrents, hard targeting, intelligence, patrols, high visibility, policing, apprehension and arrests].

  1. Ministry of Home Affairs
  2. Ministry of Defence

Major arms of the ministry of home affairs:

  • Trinidad and Tobago Police Service
  • Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service
  • Trinidad And Tobago Prison Service
  • Office of Disaster Preparedness
  • Cadets
  • SSA
  • National Security Training Academy
  • E999 Call Centre
  • Community Comfort Patrols

Major arms in the ministry of defence:

  • Trinidad and Tobago defence force- including army/coast guard/air guard/ reserves;
  • The customs division would be removed from the ministry of finance and come under the ministry of defence;
  • The immigration department would come under ministry of defence, as both immigration and customs fall into the category of “border security”;
  • Transnational Organized Crime Unit [ TOCU];
  • National Security Special Operations Group [ NSSOG];
  • Radar Centre;
  • Counter-Trafficking Unit;
  • Covert and Counter-Terrorist Unit [ CCTU].

This has now been international best practice- because of the importance of border protection, and the global effect of terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal entry of weapons, one does not and cannot box internal national security with border security.

This ensures a comprehensive system and structure to focus on securing our borders which is critical but not presently being done, as it is boxed into a ministry has to deal with Policing, fire services, prisons, immigration, etc, hence the focus on border protection is split because of a sole ministry having to deal with several other internal security matters.

If a ministry is assigned solely to deal with border security, as seen with why so much emphasis is placed on what is seen in the US with homeland security, then the prevention of such illegal entry of weapons drugs and human trafficking can be dealt with, hence the internal agencies in national security would now be able to successfully deal with the internal issues.

An increase in retirement age for the Trinidad and Tobago defence force to bring it in line with other arms of the protective services

A new UNC led government of Trinidad and Tobago will increase the retirement age by three years for all serving members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF).

We must enable the retention of experienced personnel within the respective arms of the military. Research has shown that our current defence force retirement strategy is not in keeping with industry best practices. In the case of Canada and Denmark, the compulsory retirement age for regular forces and primary reservists is 60 years.

In Norway, military personnel can serve a maximum of 40 years or up to the age of 60, whichever comes first. Australia has a general ceiling for commissioned and non-commissioned officers of 60 years and this is based on the principle that assessment should be based upon a person’s ability to perform the tasks of their particular job regardless of their age.

Records show that within the defence force, over 98 percent of TTDF personnel never continue after the age of 50 years primarily because of the present retirement age.

There is also a significant proportion of servicemen at the rank of Major/ Lieutenant Commander/ Squadron leader that must retire at 47 years of age after working for approximately half of the average work life.

It should be noted that what the defence force has been actually generating is a large pool of young retirees who, in most instances, if not employed, are compelled to wait several years before they receive the old age pension.

The extension of retirement ages would, therefore, assist in the retention of experience across the force.

The defence force has also had to compete against other services that offer much longer tenure for their members; as a result, the TTDF would have lost many potential recruits as well as those who would have left the force to join another service because of a desire for a longer tenure of service.

Also of consideration would be the change in the maximum recruitment age from 25 years to 27 years which will allow for access to a wider and more mature pool of suitably qualified citizens.

It is important for the TTDF in support of anti-crime strategies and operations and their role in supporting and contributing towards maintaining a stable society. These are factors that lend to attracting foreign investment and must be considered, given the socio-economic challenges confronting the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The recommendation for an increase for all serving members of the Coast Guard, Air Guard, and the Regiment would allow for the TTDF to adequately meet its local, regional and international commitments.

Moreover, an extension of the retirement age is to form part of a wider, holistic human resource reform which will include a more aggressive recruitment approach for all ranks in keeping with the present defence force strategic human relations plan. 

Diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in policing for recruits combined with a police apprenticeship program

We will introduce new criteria for the selection of police recruits. All new recruits will now have to possess at the least a diploma in policing. We will develop this diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs and implement them at the UWI Debe campus.

These academic programs will be combined with a part-time police apprenticeship practical program.

Some of the new courses will cover:

  • Law, governance and the criminal justice system
  • Neighbourhood and community safety
  • Understanding vulnerability, risk, and threats in society
  • Technology in policing
  • Policing, criminology and victimology
  • Practical forensics for policing
  • Academic and professional skills for police research
  • Methods in policing and security
  • Investigation of serious and organised crime
  • Cybercrime and forensic investigation
  • Accounting

Pre-trial detention and bail reform

There are fundamental injustices in the bail system. To get out of jail under our bail system, defendants have to put up cash or other assets to pay a bond, which serves as collateral to secure their return for future court dates. If they show up, the court gives back their money upon the conclusion of the trial, regardless of the outcome. If they don’t, they forfeit the funds and face additional penalties for absconding.

This scheme benefits rich people over poor people. It allows many defendants with financial resources to post bond, bail out and go about their lives while they await trial, even when facing more serious charges than a poor person with a minor charge who cannot afford bail.

Defendants who currently remain incarcerated are often poor or suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. Bail is not intended to be used to punish these individuals and is not supposed to be set higher than is necessary to preserve public safety and assure that the accused returns to court. Those who can’t afford bail end up paying instead with time behind bars.

In our jails, cells are overcrowded, and inmates are exposed to violence, filth, and disease, inmates can spend days in a bare cell without exercise, sunlight or human interaction. Inmates may be forced to use buckets for toilets which remain in the cells for hours until emptied the following morning. Some inmates cannot access basic necessities like toothpaste, soap, and medicines and are keeping them in tiny spaces smeared with mucus, blood, and feces.

Those conditions combined with jail overcrowding leads to acute psychological trauma during confinement, even for mentally stable inmates.

For those entangled in the system, the consequences are brutal. Many defendants are living paycheck-to-paycheck. If they can’t show up to work, they get fired and are stripped of the ability to be financially self-sufficient, or if they have dependents, are unable to support them.

They may lose access to housing and benefits or fall short on payments, leaving them cut off from their families and other support systems. These pitfalls affect all defendants, regardless of their actual guilt, and only increase the odds of future incarceration.

If you keep a low- or medium-risk person in jail pretrial, you are destabilizing them, you are taking away from them the things that made them low-risk, to begin with, and that will actually increase their likelihood of committing a crime in the future.

There are alternative approaches to pretrial release that isn’t solely based upon a person’s ability to pay.

Individual risk and financial assessments

A growing number of jurisdictions are turning to individualized assessments that consider a defendant’s personal, financial and criminal background in order to inform bail decisions. These risk profiles can be used to determine appropriate bail amounts, as well as who must remain behind bars without bail, who can be released under the supervision of a pretrial services program and who can leave under their own recognizance.

Minimum security detention centres

Five minimum security detention centres based in the south, central, north, east and Tobago, with work release during the day and detention after work hours. These facilities will house non-violent offenders who are remanded pretrial and cannot access bail. The locations will make it easier for families to visit their loved ones as a person will be placed in the centre closest to their living address.

All rehabilitation facilities and treatments will be offered for persons with drug and mental illness issues. We should not be placing people who default on fines for traffic offences in jails with violent offenders.

We will also allow persons on a case by case basis to access work release during their existing job hours and return to the facility after. This will prevent loss of income for them and their dependents.

Law to prevent incarceration of non-violent drug offenders (Addicts)

We will pass legislation for compulsory drug treatment and not incarceration which diverts nonviolent drug offenders to drug treatment programs for rehabilitation. Incarcerating these persons only further ruins their lives.

Ankle bracelets and house arrest

We can use these two methods to reduce our current expenditures of housing prisoners. Non-violent and old infirm prisoners or prisoners can be put on house arrest with the monitoring of ankle bracelets.

In addition to saving the state money for housing and feeding these persons, it will also prevent the destructive effect of removing fathers from homes. A proper risk assessment will be done but it is our belief that we should try our utmost to keep parents in the lives of their children.

We have old and infirm prisoners who are no threat to society. We can also use this method to reintegrate them back into society. Yes people do make mistakes and some deserve to be in jail for life but many who are no longer a threat can serve their remaining sentence under house arrest as we must also be a compassionate society.

State support for children of incarcerated persons

Parental incarceration and the disruption of family relationships produces negative outcomes for children, including poverty, poor academic performance, aggression, depression, delinquency, and substance abuse. Incarcerated mothers and fathers are unable to work on parenting skills that may be necessary for reunification, and separation interferes with the ability of parent and child to form or maintain a strong attachment.

Through no fault of their own children pay the price for their parent’s behavior. Often without parental support, these children become victims of abuse and subsequent criminal offenders. We will introduce programs for the financial, psychological and emotional support of these children for the duration of their parent’s incarceration. We plan to utilize the support of the police youth clubs, religious organizations, schools, social services, etc.

A fund to provide support to children who have lost one or both parents to crime

The children of crime victims often suffer the most harm. They are in fact the hidden victims of most crimes. Children’s experience as either targets or witnesses to violence affects their views of the world and themselves, their ideas about the meaning and purpose of life, their expectations for future happiness, and their moral development.

Moreover, exposure to violence often interferes with cognitive-developmental tasks children need to accomplish in order to become competent members of society often leading them to become criminals themselves.

A fund will be set up to provide the necessary support to children who have lost one or both parents to crime. No amount of money can replace a parent but we must do our best for our nation’s children.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP



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