Deosaran urges main parties to stop politicizing crime
Former Police Service Commission (PSC) chairman and criminologist Professor Ramesh Deosaran yesterday called on the Government to cool down their mutual hostilities with the Opposition if they want to bring an end to the country’s unprecedented levels of murders, crime and violence sweeping the land.
His comments came on the heels of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement at Saturday’s press conference that violence has become the number one issue affecting the population of T&T and has reached a level where it may need to be declared a public health emergency.
Between Friday night and Saturday evening, the country recorded nine murders which kept the police busy.
Yesterday, the murders continued, with five more people losing their lives to violence.
In weighing in on the issue, Deosaran said the PM declaring an intention to make crime a public health emergency (PHE) revealed a “clear and present danger” now facing society.
He said all the PM did was put the proposal on the table without providing operational and administrative details on this move.
In raising the issue, however, Deosaran said the PM raised three points about a possible PHE.
First, the PM said it would require the support of the entire nation which, Deosaran said, will include the Opposition.
“If you don’t get the Opposition’s support you would not have the invocation of the entire nations as he expects. The Government will need to work with the Opposition. That is if the mutual hostilities can be cooled down in the national interest,” Deosaran said.
He said a government cannot deal with crime prevention when there is political intervention.
“We have politicised the crime situation too much. It is now time to cool and depoliticise the situation.”
The second issue Rowley raised was there were too many police shootings.
Deosaran said this was a troubling issue because whenever there is a fatal police shooting, there is always a conflicting story between the police and residents of a community.
“The increase in police shootings has been increasing and the report from the Police Complaints Authority gives us no consolation. It is very serious,” he said in reference to the PCA’s report last week on the killing on PC Clarence Gilkes in Diego Martin earlier this year.
Deosaran said the T&T Police Service (TTPS) has to do a lot of in-house work in resource allocation and the use of body cameras, which they still do not have.
“Why the police don’t have body cameras to clarify the issues and to settle the fact as they are properly are?” he asked.
Deosaran said the third issue the PM highlighted was that in spite of Government’s best efforts, crime and violence had escalated This, Deosaran said, was not entirely true.
“They have pushed aside a number of crime proposals from different quarters and different sources over the years. And they do and behave as if they alone can do the job. You cannot fight crime anywhere in the world without the support of the community.”
He said one mistake the Government has repeatedly made was that they have not been kind to public opinion on matters of crime and violence.
“The Government must learn to listen to public opinion. That is the role of a proper and responsible government according to the Constitution.”
Deosaran said the related question now is if this impending PHE is not a “State of Emergency,” to what extent will it encroach into the Constitution.
An SoE, Deosaran said, gives the police increased powers to enter people’s houses to conduct searches.
“We have to give the Prime Minister a chance. He is facing a tremendous challenge. Some of the responsibility falls on his Government and himself,” he said, adding whatever Government did, he hoped it would not infringe on the Constitution.
Deosaran said the weekend murders were unprecedented, warning that it will increase based on unemployment, school failures and deviant behaviour and rising immigration from different places.
He said this matter has to be put on the front-burner upon Rowley’s return from Suriname.
“And I would suggest he looks to review one or two parts of his Cabinet. It would be helpful to take a second look at the configuration of his Cabinet in this respect of national security and public safety,” Deosaran said.
Agreeing that further clarity was needed from Rowley, attorney and former PolSC member Martin George said, “The mere act of a declaration of crime and violence as a public health emergency…let’s assume for argument sake that it is done…what do we do thereafter?”
He asked, “What’s the solution? How is that solving crime and criminality? How is that solving issues of violence in society?”
Admitting he struggled to understand just how Rowley’s announcement correlated to crime, he said, “I am yet to find it, so, I think if this is being floated as a serious response by the Prime Minister to the question of how do you curb rising levels of crime and criminality, then he is the one to provide an explanation as to how he proposes to do so.”
He added, “At the end of the day, we are in a crisis of crime and criminality…no one could deny that, so to make these vague pronouncements and broad blandishments he has done, I am not sure that is the solution at all with the greatest of respect.”
Attorney Om Lalla meanwhile called the PM’s announcement “rather strange in the context of what health emergencies generally are.”
He said the term public health emergency is generally applied to situations involving infectious diseases, as seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, or afflictions no one has control over.
“It is very difficult to understand what his intentions are by declaring it a health emergency. In a situation like this, where crime is escalating at very significant rate, very stringent measures have to be put in place. I don’t think in these circumstances, it will warrant any state of emergency, but certainly, measures on the part of national security and the police to deal with the scourge of crime that we can’t control.”
Noting that both a public health emergency and an SoE would curtail the freedom of individuals, Lalla added, “The population is already exhausted by two years of restrictions from a pandemic so that you need to be very mindful of that, when putting measures in place. …The country is gripped by crime. Everyone is nervous, wary and wondering what measures will be put in place.”
By: Shaliza Hassanali and Anna-Lisa Paul