The Government may seek to take some comfort from the probability
that the number of murders reported in 2006 is unlikely to
exceed that of 2005 or if it does it will be minimally. This
would mean that the rate of increase of homicides over the
past five years has slowed.
But this is cold comfort given the recent high profile kidnappings
and reports of communities under siege (Curepe, Lange Park,
to name a few).
This is not a time for name calling and cheap political shots.
It is a disturbing time that we are conscious of even as we
partake in the Christmas merriment. I was made poignantly
aware of this recently at a social function that I attended
when guests crowded around the television at news time to
hear the latest on the Naipaul kidnapping although none of
them knew her personally. It seems like everywhere you go
these days the talk surrounds issues of national and personal
I watched the Minister of National Security on Parliament
Channel as he gave what amounted to a defence of his ministry
during the debate on the Bail Amendment Bill. He did not inspire
In fact, I could even say that he sounded panicked the day
after the kidnapping of a prominent and apparently much respected
businesswoman. The Attorney Generals contention that
the no-bail for 60 days for people charged with kidnapping
must be a deterrent to would-be kidnappers sounded hollow
in the wake of this event.
In the last month, the country has seen many serious cases,
several of them capital, fall down owing in large measure
to the refusal of witnesses to give the testimony that was
expected that they had previously asserted in their statements.
Some of them reneged in court and some failed to even show
up. A few had been granted immunity from prosecution to testify
against their former colleagues. Others claimed simply to
have changed their minds.
Loss of memory, false promises for initial statements, acceptance
of God were among the range of reasons given to justify the
What was not clearly spelt out was that witnesses were either
threatened as to their personal security or that of members
of their family.
In so far as police testimony is concerned too often where
a case depends largely on police evidence the jury seems inclined
to scepticism from the outset. This could be the result of
the several cases in recent years involving police violence
on the one hand or police inaction on the other.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the newspapers highlighted a case
where an Erin man got a call from neighbours that his family
was being robbed.
He went forthwith to the police station and made a report
only to informed that there was no available vehicle. He then
went home where the robbery was still in progress. It was
some time after the robbers had left that the police showed
up. No wonder the public will have little confidence in the
I have heard it said chiefly by PNM supporters that the Government
is doing the best that it can. Frankly, I hope this is not
so. If what currently exists is the best that we have or can
expect then we have no hope.
The first order of business is to retrain the police, not
just in how to deal with the public but also how to give testimony.
Both if done properly will develop public confidence in the
For instance at present 95 per cent of officers do not use
an Official Pocket Diary in the course of their investigations
although it is a requirement of their Standing Orders and
is said to be the surest protection against dishonesty.
The public, including I dare say members of the Government,
may not be aware how many times police evidence is attacked
on the basis that no record is made of key matters in a pocket
diary and how often police evidence is rejected as a result.
Training on courtroom survival is vital.
Many people have been talking of the need for forensic evidence
and the over reliance on witness testimony, especially when
gang-related crime is involved. Now that the DNA Bill has
been laid and will hopefully become law in the next few months
much will be expected from forensics.
A word of caution though, this is expert testimony and again
there is need for the police in general to appreciate crime
There has been some training in the area but many police officers
complain that all of the special equipment and most of the
training is being given to the elite units who are not the
first to whom a report is made.
The regular police do not have even the basic technology to
communicate with officers out of the station. Will they have
the basic tools to do crime scene investigations?
And what of the prosecutors who must present the case to court?
When was the last time that there was any meaningful training
of either the DPPs prosecutors or the police prosecutors.
I asked this question in the budget debate and received no
The Government is not yet doing the best it can to assure
personal security and justice to the average citizen. There
are, however, measures that now exist that can lead to this
achievement in the long-term if utilised effectively.