While most of the national attention is on two damning reports on abuse at children’s homes spanning a quarter-century, serious focus should also be placed on three reports by the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) that were recently laid in the Senate.
The 2019, 2020 and 2021 reports from the intelligence agency contain some stark warnings about the deadly gang subculture which continues to evolve and become increasingly deeply entrenched across the country.
It will be at T&T’s peril if these warnings about the threats to national security posed by these criminal gangs are ignored.
The emergence of “younger, more violent leaders” and newer gangs that are “anticipated to be more volatile as they try to establish themselves resulting in an increase in murders, injuries, shootings and other violent crimes” are matters that should be addressed urgently.
The SSA reports reveal an underground culture influenced by zesser music to the extent that during the COVID-19 lockdowns and public health restrictions “several gangs hosted private ‘zess’ parties, which were characterised by the use of amphetamine pills, synthetic marijuana, edibles and cocaine. The younger demographic is also reflected in these parties.”
Female membership has increased and the range of illegal activities in which local gangs are involved has expanded considerably to include quarrying, fraud-scheming, money-laundering, black-market sale and resale of US currency, copper theft, party and events promotion, organised robbery, motor vehicle larceny, marijuana trafficking, counterfeiting, human smuggling and illegal gambling.
It is disturbing that these criminal gangs have been able to develop and expand their underground activities. This raises questions about the capacity of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to battle these criminal elements. This begins with a proper understanding of the nature of the close to 130 gangs operating in T&T and their links to transnational drug and gun trafficking.
The findings in the latest SSA reports suggest a proliferation of this dangerous criminal subculture and very little progress by law enforcement to suppress and eradicate these entities in the years since 2000 when the TTPS officially recorded the first gang-related murders. The situation is much worse now with more disaffected, under-educated young men and women seeing these criminal organizations as the best way to improve their economic and social prospects
More effort and resources need to be put into training and equipping police officers for anti-gang law enforcement.
However, more than aggressive anti-gang policing is needed to address this problem.
It is time to roll out all those long-promised community development initiatives aimed at the hot spot communities where gangs and the negative zesser influence continue to thrive. Unless alternatives are offered to the increasing numbers of young people who are being drawn into the gangster lifestyle, they will not be encouraged to leave the gangs and turn their lives around.
In tandem with the criminal justice solutions, which need to be fully deployed to counter gang activity, there should be a range of education, prevention, and training initiatives.
In this country, where too often reports are left to gather dust, the SSA report should inspire a range of interventions to break the cycle of criminality in which T&T has been trapped for too long. The warnings in the SSA report must be heeded.