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A screen grab of a robbery in progress at the Hao Li Supermarket at Jerry Junction, Orange Field Road, Carapichaima, two weeks ago.

Gunmen are hijacking people shopping in groceries, in their homes, and not even people in the churchyards are being spared by robbers. They are being beaten and relieved of their valuables, and sometimes killed. Criminals have become emboldened and are committing their acts in broad daylight.

Even politicians have become victims. The offices of two politicians were broken into within the last three months. In October, the office of Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin was burglarised. This was followed by an arson attempt earlier this month. Meanwhile, the office of Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally was also broken into this month.

A Venezuelan woman with dual citizenship was robbed and shot during a home invasion in Arima on October 12. Andreina Briceño Brown, a director at the Arima Hispanic Cultural Centre, had just returned from the grocery when her family was accosted by three men, one with a gun, who made them lie on the floor. They were robbed of a gold chain valued $14,000 (TT) and a Samsung J4 cell phone valued $1,000. Brown was shot in the left shoulder.

Two weeks ago, gynaecologist Dr Sherene Kalloo had her car broken into while parked at a shopping mall in east Trinidad. Believing she had placed money in the vehicle, robbers smashed one of the glasses and made off with a new Linx machine, leaving her with an additional bill to replace the broken window in her car.

And these are just a few of the incidents that have been occurring in almost every community every day that has left citizens terrified. It is evident that people are not safe anywhere.

Despite the prevalence of robberies, burglaries and home invasions which have left citizens fearful, senior officials in the T&T Police Service (TTPS) have said while incidents of this nature have been occurring there has not been an increase in these crimes.

Deputy Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob said, “We are having home invasions but we are not having an increase. It has been happening all the time but based on the reduction in murders, more attention is now being paid to that.”

He said when one examined the statistical data, “you are not necessarily seeing an increase.

“It might shift to certain areas or it might have other victims who are now on social media highlighting it, so that is why there is the opinion that there is an increase.”

On October 8, Jacob had confirmed that there was an increase in reports of home invasions in the previous three months and urged the public to be vigilant and to take preventative measures.

Criminologist agrees crime is on the decline

Criminologist at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Dr Randy Seepersad agreed that these offences have declined. “These offences have declined. It would be irresponsible (to say the least) to state that these crimes have increased…” he added.

According to two graphs supplied by Seepersad, highlighting pre and post-COVID-19 crime trends–between January 2019 and March 2020, robberies averaged between 300 and 400 per month. Data collected between March 2020 and August 2020 showed it declined to between 100 and 200 per month. Between August 2020 and October 2020, however, there was a gradual increase once again as incidents moved from around 125 per month to around 170 per month.

In the category of break-ins, between January 2019 and March 2020, incidents averaged between 180 and 225 per month. Between March 2020 and May 2020, there was a decline in the number of incidents, while a gradual increase was recorded during May 2020 and August 2020.

In March 2020, there were around 190 incidents per month which moved down to 100 per month by May 2020. Between May 2020 and July 2020, there was an increase from around 100 incidents per month to just under 150 incidents per month. While this figure declined between July 2020 and August 2020 to just over 100 incidents per month, between August 2020 to September 2020, there was a slight upward tick preceding another increase being recorded during September 2020 and October 2020, which moved from around 110 incidents per month to around 160 incidents per month.

Chaguanas West MP believes crime is spiralling

Chaguanas West MP Rambally, meanwhile, is adamant that crime is “spiralling again,” especially in his community.

“I know with the COVID there appears to be a decrease in the crime statistics but that is not an accurate reflection of what is happening in the society.”

Expressing concerns that the authorities had not managed to get a firm grip on handling crime, he said during a two to three-week period in October in the Felicity area, “There were over 27 home invasions.”

Rambally, speaking last week, said, “Over the last few days, there have been some attempted burglaries.”

He said the various acts of break-ins and larceny of motor vehicles were testament to just how desperate some people have become. He said it was evident that the society was deteriorating as people’s financial situation worsened.

“What you are seeing is that people are turning to a life of crime more than before and their starting position may be with home invasions and attempted robberies.”

He said this recent spike could be because criminals think people carry more cash and have more valuables during the period leading up to the Christmas holiday.

Rambally implored the authorities to prioritise the long-term sustainability of citizens. He said while food cards, social welfare grants, and hampers had proven to be useful in the interim, it was even more important to ensure people are provided with an earning capacity to survive daily.

He said there was nothing to look forward to unless urgent action is taken now. He implored the authorities to deal with the situation urgently.

CoP dismisses claims that COVID-19 has increased crime

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said the TTPS has put measures in place to deal with the crime “and you have seen the results.”

He questioned what evidence there was to substantiate claims that criminal activity had increased.

He said information coming out of some of the major cities around the world indicated while crime had increased as a result of the COVID virus, “In Trinidad and Tobago, it was just the opposite.

“At this time last year, the murder toll was 512. As of today (December 17), that figure is 383. This has nothing to do with COVID.”

Referring to the move by authorities in New York last week to bring in 900 more officers to deal with their crime problem, Griffith said in T&T, “Serious crimes have dropped about 25 per cent across the board compared to last year.”

Griffith also pointed out that more arrests had been made in homicide matters in 2020 than in 2019.

He said that at the end of November 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019, there was a 24 per cent reduction in murders; a 36 per cent reduction in kidnappings; a 32 per cent reduction in robberies; a 22 per cent reduction in house break-ins; a 23 per cent reduction in wounding and shootings; a 28 per cent reduction in sexual offences; and a 19 per cent reduction in larceny of motor vehicles.

“Overall, there was a 29.84 per cent reduction in serious crimes in 2020 compared to 2019.”

‘Don’t be complacent’

Citizens’ Union of T&T’s (CUTT) Phillip Edward Alexander said, “Citizens are living in fear and when citizens cannot feel safe in their homes and are sacred, that is a failing country.” He, however, advised people not to become complacent and to take their security seriously.

In a Stay Safe Bulletin #1 posted to Facebook on October 24, Alexander implored citizens to be careful as robbers have become more sophisticated.

“What is a difficult entrance, locked door or hefty burglar-proof to you is not the same to the trained bandit. Dogs are being poisoned or drugged. They are walking with bolt cutters and battery-operated metal cutters.”

In an interview last week, he said “Bandits have gotten more sophisticated. They are coming with jack devices to separate your wrought iron door from the frame and making the locks useless.

“They are coming with battery-operated metal cutters for fabrication that can remove your entire wrought iron gate and windows from the wall.”

Underscoring just how prepared these intruders have become, Alexander added, “They are coming with poison and other ways to disarm your pets. You are sitting down in your house thinking I have three dogs in my yard, two locks on the door and wrought iron on the windows and they are coming and finding the weak spots you are not seeing and getting into your house.

Alexander said the objective was to ensure you have as much light and make as much noise is possible if suspicious or threatening activity is occurring, since robbers take advantage of darkness and quiet.

Alexander said, “We need to get back to a place where the bandits do not feel as emboldened as they are. It has already come to a point where they are committing such invasions in broad daylight.

“We are going to run out of ways to make the country a gated community. People are terrified and we need to confront and resolve this. We need to empower the citizens and communities again, we need to get back to community policing.

“Right now, the issue is that citizens do not trust the police… You are not sure if the officers you are talking to are working for you or against you.”

BOX

Secure yourself

CUTT issued a list suggesting ways people can help improve their security:

*Compile a list of phone numbers of residents within the immediate neighbourhood. You can also create a WhatsApp group to alert each other.

*Install sensor light or turn on bright lights around your surroundings.

*Add extra deadbolts to the back, top and bottom of doors so you can be secured inside.

*Install metal doors that come built into frames.

*Invest in a loudspeaker alarm system that can be tripped from multiple locations throughout the home.

*Ensure key racks are placed inside cupboards and away from windows where they can be fished out.

*Strengthen a room (a safe/panic room) inside your home if possible, so the family can retreat in an emergency while they seek help.

*Create a protocol, an announcement, a word that means get to that room now.

*A cricket bat to the face can disable an attacker. A wide-mouth bottle of pepper sauce flung at the face does not have to get into the eyes to completely disorient. Fly spray in the face constantly will blind and suffocate.

*For those who can qualify for a firearm, Alexander encouraged them to apply as he cautioned, “Be prepared to defend yourself inside your home.”