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Thursday, October 19 2017 @ 09:41 PM AST

US: Crime in Trinidad & Tobago critical

The US Department of State has said that crime in T&T has deteriorated to a "critical level" in its latest T&T 2014 Crime and Safety Report released earlier this month (Sept 4) to diplomats and expatriates. The US government's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) puts out the report for its diplomats and expatriates annually. In 2011, OSAC rated crime as "high;" in 2012 the rating was "HIGH;" and in 2013 it deteriorated to "critical." The council is established under authority of the US Secretary of State (John Kerry) in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

"The government is making a sincere effort to combat crime. However, an overburdened legal system, bureaucratic resistance to change, the political landscape ahead of national elections in 2015, unemployment in marginal areas, the negative influence of gangs, and a burgeoning illegal narcotics industry create significant barriers. Response time can be sporadic due to a lack of resources, specifically vehicles and personnel. Foreigners who are crime victims can expect to be treated and assisted with the same level of cooperation and fairness as that given to a local citizen," the report said.

In response to public concerns, government provided the police service with "new/tangible support" in the form of additional police cruisers, renovations of several police stations, and recruitment of new officers, the State Department said. "The Acting Police Commissioner is attempting to improve the police service response to crime and criminals," the report said. "The US Department of State considers crime in T&T to be rated at a critical level. Crime is the principal threat to visitors."

While overall criminal activity decreased in 2013, according to the T&T Police Service (TTPS) crime statistics, the murder rate increased, the US State Department said. "Violent crime is a concern for local security services and the general population," the US Department of State said. There were 405 murders in 2013, 379 murders in 2012, 354 murders in 2011, 480 murders in 2010, 508 murders in 2009, and 550 (record high) murders in 2008 in a population of approximately 1.3 million people, US diplomats are told in the report. "The murder rate for T&T is 31 per 100,000 inhabitants," it said.

In late 2011, the government implemented a State of Emergency to deal with what it deemed specific and emerging threats, the report said. Along with the State of Emergency, a curfew in particular areas of the country was imposed. During the State of Emergency, the murder rate was greatly reduced, contributing to the low number of murders for 2011, US diplomats were told.

The majority of violent criminal activity (that is, homicides, kidnappings, assaults, sexual assaults, etc) in Trinidad is gang/drug related or domestic in nature, the State Department said. A significant and growing portion of this violence is attributed to the influence of gangs, illegal narcotics, and firearms, it said. Over 100 criminal gangs have been identified in Trinidad and Tobago, and these gangs, as well as other organizations, have been linked to crimes related to weapons smuggling, fraud, and other organized criminal activities, said the State Department.

"Despite the decrease in overall criminal activity, crimes related to economic gain, sexual assault, and domestic violence continue to plague the country. Per TTPS, there were 551 sexual offences in 2013," it said.

Most crimes are crimes of opportunity, expatriates were told. "American citizens have been victims of pickpocketing, assault, theft/robbery, fraud, and murder. However, there is no evidence to indicate that foreigners, specifically expatriate communities, are targeted in particular. Crimes, to include robbery, break-ins/burglary, vehicular break-ins, home invasions, and assaults (including sexual assaults), regularly occur in areas where expatriates live and congregate," the State Department said.

It said that many crimes go unreported, and added that there are instances in which crimes are reported but not documented. Most reported crimes occur within the metropolitan areas of Port of Spain and San Fernando, according to the US report. "Approximately 18 percent of reported crimes result in an arrest," it said.

Tourists were also warned. "As for the sister-island of Tobago, murder, home invasion, petty theft, and swindling, including theft of large sums of cash and passports from hotels rooms, affect tourists. Several violent home invasions targeted well-to-do villas sometimes rented to tourists," said the report.

US: Don't take maxis

T&T's roads also concerned the State Department said. "Traveling on the roads can be safe, though there are a relatively high number of traffic fatalities. The risk of serious vehicular traffic accidents, including accidents causing death, is moderate to high, particularly at night. Upward of 1,151 traffic fatalities were reported from 2008-2013. In 2013, there were 151 deaths, down from 189 in 2012. The government has passed legislation to allow law enforcement to utilize breathalyzers to reduce the number of drunk driving-related fatalities and make it illegal to talk on cell phones while driving. The government created Traffic Wardens to monitor traffic safety."

The State Department said: "The use of maxi-taxis and 'gypsy taxis' are not recommended because of the poor condition of the vehicles and the unreliability of drivers. Individuals reportedly have been robbed while traveling in maxi/gypsy taxis, sometimes with the collusion of the drivers."

For self-driving, to the best extent possible, the State Department advised US citizens to "place articles in your vehicle’s trunk before arriving at your destination. Do not stop your car if you are flagged down along the road; hitchhikers are usually swindlers and can be threatening. Criminals are also known to follow travellers from the airport to their destination."

On political, economic, religious and ethnic violence, the US had "local, regional, and international terrorism threats or concerns. The radical Muslim organization Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM) is locally based and was responsible for a violent, unsuccessful coup in July 1990. Since then, JAM and its leaders have focused on Islamic education and a number of business ventures, but they have been linked to serious crimes, including murder, and to alleged get-out-the-vote irregularities during national political campaigns. Meanwhile, the government is seeking restitution against JAM for damages associated with the 1990 coup attempt."

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Trinidad and Tobago, the State Department said, "but radical elements from criminal gangs are thought to occasionally make contact with individuals and groups with possible terrorist ties around the world, and given the crime rate and some weak aspects of border control that are permissive for drug and weapons trafficking, T&T could be utilized as a transit point for potential terrorists or terrorist organizations."

On civil unrest, the State Department said T&T has remained mostly peaceful since the 1990 attempted coup, with periodic demonstrations by labour unions over salary negotiations, tax structures, and other issues involving public resources or government operations. Some political demonstrations do become violent, with an occasional clash with the police, the departmen said. In September 2013, demonstrators closed the primary route from Port of Spain to Piarco International Airport to protest police abuses. "In 2001, immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks, JAM members and others protested the US policy on the war on terrorism," the report said.

Infrastructure inadequate

T&T has been rated in the "extremely vulnerable" category for seismic activity, the State Department said. It also noted that although "the islands are below the hurricane belt," some storms have occurred nearby and "inadequate infrastructure and drainage coupled with heavy rains occasionally causes flooding in certain urban areas and landslides that can block remote roads."

Industrial accidents are not a significant concern, the US said. One concern relative to general safety in Trinidad is the possible disruption of utility services as a result of industrial action group protests and non-violent demonstrations by labour organisations, the State Department said.

On drug-related crimes, the US said: "Port of Spain experiences the effects of persons addicted to illicit drugs. Trinidad continues to be viewed as a transshipment point for illicit drugs, and drug-related crimes are a significant part of the overall crime picture.

On kidnapping threats, the US said: "There were 112 kidnappings in 2013, down from 182 in 2012. Kidnapping for ransom remains a problem in Trinidad. There were four in 2013, three in 2012, five in 2011, four in 2010, eight in 2009, and 17 in 2008. Of the four kidnapping for ransom cases reported in 2013, none was solved."

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