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CCT footage of the robbery of Jules Sobion and friends being robbed in the front yard at the Caesar’s Army’s headquarters on Gallus Street, Woodbrook., recently.

Criminals in T&T are making routine trips to the grocery, the bank or even sitting in your yard at home a hazard.

Bodies lie cold across the country as gunmen strike bold.

Last year the country faced an unprecedented wave of violent crimes that included murders, robberies and kidnappings. The dawn of 2022 has not seen any reprieve from this bloody trail that has spilt over from 2021 into the new year.

The screaming front-page headlines on daily newspapers, the nightly television reports on crime and the gore displayed on Facebook has fear coursing through the veins of the average citizen. That fear has translated into uneasiness by many to use public transport at times or even venture out of their homes.

The brazen downtown murder of Gareth Perkins, a Jamaican national and son of former permanent secretary Godfrey Perkins of Jamaica, has shocked the public as the incessant crime wave inches closer to their doorstep.

The new year started tragically when a Chinese lantern, a source of light that symbolises wealth, prosperity and vitality, ironically destroying four homes in a housing compound at Quarry Street, Port-of-Spain, leaving 25 people homeless.

The tragedy segued into areas around the country with swift bloodletting. The country’s murder count soared to ten in just seven days.

The country’s first murder victim was Elza Sandy, 65, of Tacarigua, whose body was found on January 1 at her home. Her body bore marks of violence and investigators believe she was killed during a home invasion.

This was followed by the country’s first double murder on January 2, in which cashier Sharlene Lawrence, 27 and pensioner Roy Mahabir, 72, were both shot dead at their Cunupia home.

Other shooting deaths included Shakeem Marshall, 15, at San Juan; and Shakeem Roberts, 22, at Chaguanas.

Riad Ryan Heeralal, 29, of Mayaro, was killed after gunmen stormed the family’s house where he had been staying. Two other relatives were also injured during that incident.

By January 13, the murder count shot up to 23 with the country recording its first triple murder in Sangre Grande after three men were executed in a car.

The victims identified as Jermarc Quashie, 26; Terrance Nixon, 29; and Skeete Sanchez, 28, all of Sangre Grande, were killed at Toco Main Road.

In fact, T&T recorded five killings within a seven-hour period between Thursday night and Friday morning in the Sangre Grande region, Arima and St Ann’s. There were five more murders between Friday night and Saturday.

While killers were running freely across the country, T&T recorded its first kidnapping on January 8. A St Helena couple was grabbed by several men from their home.

Narine Maraj, 62 and his wife Deokie Mattie, 52, both farmers, of St Helena, were taken at gunpoint by the kidnappers who later demanded a $2 million ransom for their safe return.

Narine managed to escape one day after being abducted, while his wife was released two days after. She wandered through the forest until she got to the home of a couple in Valencia, who later contacted the police.

TTPS: Don’t be alarmed, adjustments being made to crime-fighting strategies

While anxiety among the population intensifies, recently appointed acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob has given the assurance that new crime-fighting initiatives are in the pipeline.

During a media briefing on January 7, Jacob said adjustments were being made to crime-fighting strategies as the T&T Police Service (TTPS) moves to allay the fears of citizens and get the crime situation under control.

He repeated this at a media briefing on January 14, as he noted there had been a reduction in the category of serious crimes.

Jacob had previously said tackling murders had proven to be challenging for the TTPS, given the multiple motives that often led to such situations.

Despite the spate of murders, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Wendell Williams sought to allay fears by appealing to the public not to be alarmed “even though we are and are concerned and treating with it, things are not out of hand.” He noted that this has been the trend with murders in the past at the start of the new year.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said authorities were working to tackle violent crime at all levels, and most especially, through the removal of illegal arms.

A total of 448 homicides were recorded at the end of 2021–compared to 399 at the end of 2020.

Devastating impact of crime and COVID-19

President of the T&T Association of Psychologists (TTAP) Charles Collier said the destructive combination of the ravages of crime and the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to a rise in pervading fear, stress, anxiety, and depression among the population.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian on Thursday, Collier said criminal activity, particularly if it involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, was likely to be traumatic.

“It’s not guaranteed with everyone who experiences it, that they will be traumatised, but the likelihood of it is fairly high,” he said.

Collier explained, “When trauma is being discussed, among the most common causes of trauma are physical violence, accidents, natural disasters, things that create circumstances under which people reasonably may fear for their lives or their physical safety.”

With those kinds of crimes being frequently committed, he said, and the public being aware of it, there was likely to be an increase in trauma, not only for the people who experienced it directly but also for those who were aware of it.

Collier said the media could also be held to account for the dissemination of images and news content.

He said when people watch the news and see the visual images and read about the murders and physical attacks, the harm, damage and injuries can themselves, be traumatising.

According to Collier, in the wake of the murder of a prison officer in November 2021, a question was posed in a previous piece he had written about regarding the vicarious trauma that people experienced, and in particular, about the use of social media.

Collier opined that several incidents when video and photographic images were shared via social media, taken from scenes of either accidents or murders, were really problematic. He said questions continue to arise as to who was able to take those images and to share them from a crime or forensic scene.

He advised that those images in and of themselves needed to be considered in the context of just how much information was needed to share, but also because of the trauma it can create in and among the recipients of that imagery.

Collier said whether it was death by violence or the COVID-19 virus, depression and anxiety were usually present.

He added that people can sometimes become so traumatised, that they can have difficulty with basic functions such as sleeping, eating, losing their ability to work effectively, and having great difficulty concentrating on day-to-day activities.

Collier disclosed that there was also the danger that some people who were suffering from trauma, in particular, were likely to become hyper-vigilant.

Many people in response to COVID-19 had become excessively anxious about contracting the disease, he said.

Reporting that people were at risk of becoming shut-ins, agoraphobic, not even wanting to leave their homes or have any kind of social contact or interaction– Collier said this led to some locking themselves away in fear.

Regarding the fiery protest last Monday by some Beetham residents over an ongoing sewerage problem in the area, he said that it should be distinguished from, and not placed in the same category as a criminal act.

He categorised that as a civic protest, and one not be confused with robberies and home invasions.

And he questioned why there was no examination of the relationship between those kinds of actions and deprivation.

Collier said that incident was specifically about the failure of institutions to provide fundamental resources to the community for an extended period of time, questions he believes, now need to be raised in the news.

T&T Chamber concerned as crime drives costs up

Newly elected chief executive officer of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Ian De Souza said they remain extremely concerned about the effects of crime on the private sector.

He said, “In addition to the damage that is done to the society and business is part of the society, and crime introduces an element of further cost to doing business.”

Happy that the TTPS was acting to reduce crime and criminality, he said the Chamber was pleased with the set up of special units such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and the Fraud Squad established to tackle white-collar crime.

However, he added that the impact of physical acts of crime was having a debilitating effect on citizens and businesses by extension.

“The society is fearful in terms of its movement due to the extent of crime we have, and in the various city centres in particular,” he shared.

Looking at the increased costs that crime had placed on business owners, De Souza said the cost that crime places on business eventually pass through to the customers of these businesses.

“The cost of additional security…physical security, manned security, armed security, security systems, burglar proofing, alarms…all of these things that have to be added to doing business so this is definitely something the Chamber would like to see go away in all of its forms.”