With police now grappling with serious crime in Tunapuna, the question arises once more about whether we are dealing with the core problem holistically.
Tackling crime with a heavy hand through policing crackdowns has always been just part of the solution.
Providing opportunities and ways away from it remains a challenge made even worse by the economic pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The problem in Tunapuna, at least from the viewpoint of residents, is that the perpetrators find few opportunities to earn a living otherwise.
No right-thinking person condones criminal behaviour as a means of poverty release. But we must continue to examine what can be done to prohibit others from pursuing that path.
In this regard, East Port-of-Spain has already been a testing ground.
For years, districts in East Port-of-Spain have been the focus of the country’s main crime problems, with hundreds of young people there involved in drug and gun violence.
In fact, the stigmatisation of those communities has prevented many who live in them from accessing jobs despite their qualifications.
A decade ago, a decision was made to find ways to transform the area as the People’s Partnership government funded a study by Dr Selwyn Ryan to find the source of the problem and the solutions therein.
That study, called ‘No Time to Quit: Engaging Youth at Risk’, found that a lack of training and employment opportunities were issues that had to be resolved if young people in those areas were to be turned from crime.
Eight years later, in 2021, the current PNM Government established a Community Recovery Committee (CRC) tasked with developing and implementing “sustainable working solutions” that address issues affecting those at-risk communities.
That committee, headed by Dr Anthony Watkins, also found that among other things, unemployment was a major concern.
The CRC identified as key areas of focus, human development, such as skills training and grooming residents to become more employable and business and economic development, to help residents start and maintain sustainable businesses. It also said discussions were to be held with the business chambers, the Human Resource Management Association of T&T and recruitment agencies on how they deal with job seekers from east Port-of-Spain.
Today, there has been a notable drop in the serious types of crime to which we were accustomed seeing in those communities.
It’s still not fully clear how much of this is due to the implementation of the recommendations from these committees, simply because the proper follow-up assessments have either not been done or made public.
Few would argue that more is still required, particularly as the recommendations called for police to go after the “big ones.”
If and when an assessment of East Port-of-Spain is done, the aim is to migrate the successful solutions to other parts of the country where crime remains a concern, while also reviewing the reasons why some of the recommendations did not work.
The problems in Tunapuna may very well be different from those in East Port-of-Spain but the solutions remain the same—a heavy hand against those committing crime in sync with carefully designed upliftment programmes.
In so doing, criminals who seek havens in areas they see as vulnerable and easy to groom youths into lives of crime would find that the climate for it is no longer there.