Trinidad and Tobago has registered well over 400 homicides so far this year, continuing a long period of escalating violence that appears to have left authorities at a loss.
Among the latest victims were two men shot dead while walking near their home on September 19 in Morvant, a town east of the capital city, Port of Spain, according to West Indies and Caribbean News.
A few days earlier, a man was gunned down in a car park in the Maloney area of Trinidad while yet another was shot to death at a bar in the Claxton Bay area.
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Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 414 murders so far this year -- a 40 percent rise compared to the same point last year -- Trinidad Daily Express reported on September 12.
The dual-island nation had unofficially passed the 400 homicide milestone at the beginning of September. At the time, Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob said he could neither confirm nor deny the murder rate, claiming he hadn’t yet seen the official figures.
Two days later, however, Jacob cited the milestone as the reason why the police required greater support and more initiatives to tackle crime, noting that the internationally-backed Gang Reduction and Community Empowerment (GRACE) Project, could help “make the necessary change” to reduce murders in the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
Trinidad and Tobago’s climbing homicide rate is being attributed to increasingly violent gangs fighting over a range of criminal economies. But it is unclear in what timeframe policies like Project GRACE could make any meaningful difference.
In 2020, 205 of the 393 murders registered in the country were credited to gangs, according to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). And with this year’s murder total already far outpacing 2020, gang violence is certainly worsening.
Gang activity has been linked to multiple criminal economies in the country, including illegal quarrying, organized robbery, marijuana, human smuggling, and illegal gambling among many others.
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The country's location creates additional complications. The Global Organized Crime Index noted that Trinidad and Tobago is a well-established destination country for heroin and cocaine from Venezuela and Guyana, while the country’s northern port, Chaguaramas, serves as a major launching pad for cocaine to Europe. The ongoing Venezuelan crisis has “exacerbated Trinidad and Tobago’s arms-trafficking market,” claims the report. And the country’s intelligence body, the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), estimated recently that some 12,000 guns circulate in the country.
These elements have led to an increasingly turbulent criminal landscape as new “more volatile” gangs attempt to establish themselves and gain control of these valuable economies. Tunapuna, a district less than 20 kilometers from Port of Spain, is now largely controlled by gangs, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian recently claimed.
In an attempt to counter this worsening outlook, the country is enacting anti-gang initiatives, including the aforementioned GRACE Project. Launched in May, the project aims to strengthen the police's “community-based policing initiatives” to generate greater trust from local communities. This is sorely needed as research has found that police are largely considered “untrustworthy" and that people are unwilling to cooperate with them "out of fear that local officers are corrupt and the offenders will retaliate.”