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Trinidad and Tobago: Crime; government actions to fight crime, including crime linked to gangs and organized crime (2007-2009)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 22 July 2009
Citation / Document Symbol TTO103214.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Crime; government actions to fight crime, including crime linked to gangs and organized crime (2007-2009), 22 July 2009, TTO103214.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b20f034c.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Crime

Several sources consulted state that the crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago is high (Canada 1 June 2009; EIU 20 Mar. 2008; UK 9 July 2008; CMC 1 Jan. 2009). In 2008, police recorded over 18,000 serious crimes, including homicides, kidnappings and sexual offences (ibid.). A travel report issued by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada states that "robberies with violence, including assaults and rape, occur frequently" (Canada 1 June 2009). Sexual assaults and domestic violence are reportedly serious problems in the country (US 29 Jan. 2008; UK 9 July 2008).

Several governmental, non-governmental and media sources noted a significant increase in the homicide rate in the years leading up to 2009 (AI 2009; US 22 Mar. 2007; EIU 20 Mar. 2008); the murder rate went from 7.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 30.6 per 100,000 in 2007 (ibid.). A total of 92 homicides were recorded in 1999 (US 22 Mar. 2007) compared to 260 in 2004 (ibid.). Sources provided data on the average number of homicides that occurred between 2005 and 2007, indicating that in Trinidad and Tobago, a country of 1.3 million people (AI 2009), there were between 368 and 391 murders per year (CMC 26 Dec. 2007; ibid. 4 Jan. 2008; Huddersfield Examiner 29 Sept. 2008; US 29 Jan. 2008; US 22 Mar. 2007). However, there were between 544 and 550 homicides in 2008 (AI 2009; CMC 2 Feb. 2009; eTN 30 June 2009; CMC 1 Jan. 2009), the highest recorded figures in the country's history (ibid.). According to Caribbean Update, a New Jersey-based business publication (Caribbean Update n.d.), the majority of murders recorded in 2008 remained unsolved as of 1 December 2008 (ibid. 1 Dec. 2008). Media sources reported nearly 200 murders occurring within the first half of 2009 (eTN 30 June 2009; Caribbean Net News 16 May 2009). Specifically, Caribbean Net News states that there were 198 murders between 1 January and 12 May 2009, compared to 168 over the same period in 2008 and 101 for 2007 (16 May 2009).

Crime is particularly high in urban areas such as Port of Spain and San Fernando (Canada 1 June 2009, Sec. 3). According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), over half of the country's murders are concentrated in six suburban neighbourhoods of Port of Spain (20 Mar. 2008), while the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) reports that most crimes occur in "isolated and high crime areas, though many of these surround upper-class residential areas" (US 29 Jan. 2008).

The EIU points to several possible explanations for the rise in violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago, including the decline in deference to the rule of law, government corruption, the perceived uneven distribution of resources and a rising gang culture (20 Mar. 2008).

Gang-related violence

The bulk of violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago is gang-related (Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008; US 29 Jan. 2008) and linked to the narcotics trade (CMC 4 Jan. 2008; Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008; EIU 20 Mar. 2008; US 29 Jan. 2008) as well as weapons trafficking (ibid.; EIU 20 Mar. 2008).

According to official statistics cited by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), 295 out of the 544 people murdered in 2008, or 54.2 percent, were killed in gang-related shootings (CMC 2 Feb. 2009). The EIU reports that 53 percent of killings that occurred between 2003 and 2007 were gang related (20 Mar. 2008). National Security Minister Martin Joseph was quoted by media as saying that almost 70 percent of murders committed in the first four months of 2009 were gang-related (Caribbean Net News 16 May 2009).

Joseph indicated that there are about 190 criminal gangs operating in Trinidad and Tobago (CMC 8 Aug. 2008). Law enforcement officials believe that El Salvador's MS-13 gang was among the organized crime groups operating in the country (ibid.). According to Deputy Police Commissioner Gilbert Reyes, significant numbers of "unemployable youth" are leaving school and entering gangs, which are increasing in membership (CMC 1 Jan. 2009).

According to a Canadian government travel advisory, violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago frequently involves shootings and kidnappings (Canada 1 June 2009, Sec. 3). Freedom House states that kidnappers disproportionately target Trinidadians of East Indian ancestry (2009); according to Reuters, some 75 percent of kidnapping victims are Indo-Trinidadians (Reuters 20 Feb. 2007).

Law enforcement

Several sources acknowledge problems that continue to have an impact on the quality of policing in Trinidad and Tobago, including lack of human resources (CMC 1 Jan. 2009; Trinidad Express 8 July 2009) and equipment (US 27 Feb. 2009, 582) as well as perceived police corruption (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 1d; Freedom House 2009).

The Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) and the Trinidad Express report that Trinidad and Tobago's police force is understaffed (CMC 1 Jan. 2009; Trinidad Express 8 July 2009). In July 2009, an Opposition Senator reportedly stated that there are 6,357 police officers in Trinidad and Tobago, but that this number represents a shortage of roughly 1,300 police officers; National Security Minister Martin Joseph concurred "'that there is a shortage of 1,000 police officers'" (ibid.).

According to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) produced by the United States (US) Department of State, those involved in the drug trade take advantage of the country's "lack of resources for border control, aircraft and patrol boats and for maintaining a law enforcement presence in Tobago" (US 27 Feb. 2009, 582).

Human rights reports indicate that police corruption remains a problem in Trinidad and Tobago (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 1d; Freedom House 2009). Freedom House describes corruption in the police force as "endemic" and "often drug related" (ibid.).

According to Amnesty International (AI), public trust in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service has suffered due to the increase in violent crime coupled with a view that abuse by police is met with impunity (2009). In addition, despite a Complaints Division of the Police Service, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, public trust in the police complaints mechanism is low (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 1d). In July 2008, Police Commissioner James Philbert publicly apologized "for the poor quality of policing experienced by some sectors of society over the years" (AI 2009).

In order to improve its effectiveness in its fight against the growing rate of violent crime, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has adopted a number of measures concerning law enforcement, including the following:

  • strengthening police patrols in strategic areas (CMC 13 June 2008; ibid. 6 July 2008) by 580 officers (Miami Herald 13 June 2008);

  • deploying a 250-member Special Task Force Unit under the direct command of the Police Commissioner to conduct street patrols and man roadblocks (Trinidad Guardian 28 June 2009);

  • opening up lines of communication with affected communities through patrols (CMC 6 July 2008) and a Crime Stoppers telephone hotline (Freedom House 2009);

  • recruiting new police officers (US 29 Jan. 2008), approximately 500 per year (Trinidad Express 8 July 2009);

  • calling up approximately 350 police officers who were on vacation leave (Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008), as well as retired special reserve officers (CMC 31 Oct. 2008);

  • cancelling the vacation leave of 226 police officers with planned vacation for a period of three (Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008) to six months (CMC 13 June 2008);

  • equipping police with additional arms, ammunition, bulletproof vests (ibid.; Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008), police cruisers and renovated police stations (US 29 Jan. 2008);

  • increasing the use of technologies such as new communications equipment (CMC 13 June 2008; Caribbean Net News 13 June 2008) and DNA and forensic testing (CMC 8 Aug. 2008), including E-Trace, a technology used to trace firearms (FindLaw 20 May 2009; Caribbean Net News 16 May 2009);

  • enhancing regional criminal information-sharing within CARICOM states as well as with North America and Europe (ibid.); and

  • planning a "strategic restructuring" of the country's security apparatus (Caribbean Net News 24 Apr. 2009; CMC 28 Apr. 2009), following the recommendations of a 2008 study undertaken by a Canadian security firm (ibid.).

Judiciary

In a 20 March 2008 article, the EIU quoted the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago as describing the state of the country's criminal justice system as being "'in virtual collapse.'" Among the most serious obstacles facing the criminal justice system according to several sources, including the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Magistrate (EIU 20 Mar. 2008), was the unavailability of witnesses due to fear and threats (ibid.; Caribbean Net News 11 May 2009; CMC 8 Aug. 2008). AI also voiced concerns about the witness protection program (AI 2009). In 2008, six state witnesses were fatally shot, while others faced widespread intimidation (ibid.).

Another problem highlighted by human rights sources is the backlog in the court system due to insufficient resources coupled with an increasing rate of violent crime (ibid.; Freedom House 2009; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 1d; Caribbean Net News 11 May 2009). According to Deputy Chief Magistrate Mark Wellington, magistrate courts are "severely burdened" by the upsurge in charge cases, complaining that there were delays in processing cases due to "far too many repeated adjournments, unavailability of court exhibits [and the] absence of police complainants" (ibid.). Freedom House reports that the backlog may extend five years back, with 20,000 criminal cases pending trial (Freedom House 2009). At the end of 2008, 1,595 inmates out of a total prison population of 3,803 were awaiting trial, almost triple the 578 such inmates at the end of 2007 (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 1d). According to AI, there is an insufficient number of judges and lawyers in the criminal justice system, while at the same time there has been a drop in the number of serious criminal cases brought to court, due in part to low detection rates for violent crime (AI 2009). The conviction rate for murders in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the EIU, is estimated to be below one percent (20 Mar. 2008).

Legislation

On 19 September 2008, President George Maxwell Richards signed into law the Bail Act which denies bail to persons charged with their third "violent offence" or their fourth "specified offence" in 15 years (CMC 21 Sept. 2008; see also US 27 Feb. 2009, 582). A total of 46 "specified and violent offences" are covered under this act (CMC 21 Sept. 2008).

There were several media reports discussing legislation proposed by the government but not yet implemented, such as a new gun ownership law (CMC 8 Aug. 2008), a new anti-gang law (ibid. 19 Sept. 2008) and an Evidence Amendment Bill to provide increased protection to witnesses and allow hearsay evidence in trials (Global Insight 9 Feb. 2007). Further details on the implementation of these laws, however, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Social programs

According to an article appearing in the EIU, the Trinidadian government has prioritized law enforcement programs over preventative measures in its fight against crime (20 Mar. 2008). However, CMC reported an announcement made on 1 April 2007 by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in which it pledged to spend 3.6 billion Trinidad and Tobago dollars [or approximately 660 million Canadian dollars (Canada 2 Apr. 2009)] over the next four years on social programs aimed at young people, including those considered "at risk" (CMC 2 Apr. 2007).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Amnesty International (AI). 2009. "Trinidad & Tobago." Amnesty International Report 2009. [Accessed 10 July 2009]

Canada. 1 June 2009. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Travel Report: Trinidad and Tobago. [Accessed 10 July 2009]
_____. 2 April 2007. Bank of Canada. "Currency Conversion Results." [Accessed 15 July 2009]

Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) [Bridgetown]. 28 April 2009. Calvin G. Brown. "TT Gov't Confident Over New Strategic Plan to Fight Crime." [Accessed 22 June 2009]
_____. 2 February 2009. "Caribbean Body Highlights Links Between Illicit Arms Trade and Rising Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas 3 Feb. 2009/Factiva)
_____. 1 January 2009. "Trinidad Reports Bloodiest Year on Record with 549 Murders." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 31 October 2008. "Trinidad Minister Confident New Security Measures Will Cut Violent Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas 2 Nov. 2008/Factiva)
_____. 21 September 2008. "Trinidad Government Enacts Tough Law to Combat Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 19 September 2008. "Trinidad Seeks to Implement Anti-Gang Law to Tackle Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 8 August 2008. "Trinidad Considers New Laws to Deal with Gun Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 6 July 2008. "Trinidad Acting Police Chief Vows to Intensify Fight Against Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas 7 July 2008/Factiva)
_____. 13 June 2008. "Trinidad Police Have All Vacation Leave Cancelled as Crime Fight Measure." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 4 January 2008. "Trinidad Government Admits Failure to Fight Crime in Some Areas." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 26 December 2007. "Trinidad Murder Toll Surpasses 2006 Figures." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)
_____. 2 April 2007. "Trinidad Earmarks Millions to Fight Crime." (BBC Monitoring Americas/Factiva)

Caribbean Net News. 16 May 2009. Oscar Ramjeet. "Murder Rate Doubles in Trinidad in the Last Two Years." [Accessed 10 July 2009]
_____. 11 May 2009. Oscar Ramjeet. "Trinidad Chief Justice Says Crime is a National Problem." [Accessed 10 July 2009]
_____. 24 April 2009. Oscar Ramjeet. "Trinidad PM Says New Anti-Crime Plan Coming." [Accessed 10 July 2009]
_____. 13 June 2008. Stephen Cummings. "Trinidad's National Security Ministry to Spend TT$38.4m on Crime Fighting Initiative." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

Caribbean Update [Millburn, NJ]. 1 December 2008. "More Crime Threatens Tourism." (Factiva)
_____. N.d. "Welcome to Caribbean Update." [Accessed 20 July 2009]

Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). 20 March 2008. "A Caribbean Crime Wave." [Accessed 20 Mar. 2008]

eTurboNews (eTN). 30 June 2009. Elinor Garely. "Trinidad and Tobago: An Unusual Mix of Crime and Tourism." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

FindLaw. 20 May 2009. "The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Signs eTRACE Agreement." (PRNewswire/USNewswire) [Accessed 22 June 2009]

Freedom House. 2009. "Trinidad and Tobago (2009)." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 17 July 2009]

Global Insight. 9 February 2007. Kate Joynes. "Crime – Troubled Trinidad and Tobago Takes Action Against Witness Intimidation." (Factiva)

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. 29 September 2008. "World Briefs: Islands Hit by Crime Surge." (Factiva)

The Miami Herald. 13 June 2008. "Trinidad Orders more Police to Fight Crime." (Factiva)

Reuters. 20 February 2007. Stuart Grudgings. "Trinidad Struggles with Crime Amid Prosperity." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

Trinidad and Tobago Express [Port of Spain]. 8 July 2009. "Police Service Short by 1,000." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

The Trinidad Guardian [Port of Spain]. 28 June 2009. Akile Simon. "New Crime-Busting Unit to Hit Streets." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

United Kingdom (UK). 9 July 2008. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Country Profile: Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 22 June 2009]

United States (US). 27 February 2009. Department of State. "Trinidad and Tobago." International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR 2009). Vol. 1. [Accessed 22 June 2009]
_____. 25 February 2009. Department of State. "Trinidad and Tobago." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed 22 June 2009]
_____. 29 January 2008. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). "Trinidad and Tobago 2008 Crime Safety Report." [Accessed 10 July 2009]
_____. 22 March 2007. Embassy of the United States in Trinidad and Tobago. Roy L. Austin. "2007 Speeches: What Works? Reducing Crime and Delinquency." [Accessed 10 July 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sources, including: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Organization of Americas States (OAS), Transparency International, Trinidad and Tobago Government, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday [Port of Spain].

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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