Trinidad criminals switching to military weapons —senior cop

Some of the high-powered guns seized during the raid in Cunupia in November 2018.

(Trinidad Guardian) Crim­i­nals are shift­ing from the use of hand­guns to com­mit crimes to more so­phis­ti­cat­ed mil­i­tary-type ri­fles.

This from As­sis­tant Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice (An­ti-Crime) Jayson Forde on Wednes­day as he told a Par­lia­ment Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty that po­lice were seiz­ing an av­er­age of 1,000 il­le­gal firearms an­nu­al­ly.

Forde ad­mit­ted that the rate at which il­le­gal firearms “ap­pear on the streets is some­thing to be con­cerned about.”

Vice chair­man of the Com­mit­tee Paul Richards told Forde the SSA’s 2016 da­ta showed there were 8,154 il­le­gal firearms in T&T and this fig­ure may be a drop in the buck­et. Many of those weapons came in through le­gal ports of en­try, the SSA found.

Forde said the fig­ures of firearms re­cov­ered have been far larg­er com­pared to pre­vi­ous years.

Of the 8,000 firearms, Richards said 169 were used in crimes.

“If I were to ac­cept this in the con­text of the seizure rate it sug­gests that about 7,500 plus il­le­gal firearms are just lurk­ing around T&T and are await­ing un­for­tu­nate use. The seizure of 1,000 out of 8,000 does not give me a lot of com­fort,” Richards said.

Richards said when he looked at the 2,000 crim­i­nal gangs op­er­at­ing in the coun­try, each re­cruit­ing an av­er­age of 20 mem­bers, we were “gross­ly un­der-es­ti­mat­ing the num­ber of firearms in T&T. The num­bers don’t seem to add up to me.”

Richards asked if the same guns are used in mul­ti­ple homi­cides.

Forde said every gang mem­ber would not pos­sess a firearm but could not say if the same guns were be­ing used in killings.

As for the crim­i­nals’ choice of firearms, Forde said it was ini­tial­ly hand­guns.

“But we are en­coun­ter­ing more as­sault-type firearms,” Forde said

Hinds queried if au­to­mat­ic ma­chine guns were the pre­ferred choice, to which Forde said yes.

“This is am­mu­ni­tion that is com­mon to mil­i­tary war­fare be­tween armies,” Hinds re­spond­ed.

Of­fi­cials of the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice, Cus­toms and Ex­cise Di­vi­sion and Port Au­thor­i­ty of T&T ap­peared be­fore the Com­mit­tee.

In his open­ing state­ment, Hinds said in 2016, the com­mit­tee com­menced an in­quiry in­to the preva­lence of il­le­gal firearms cir­cu­lat­ing on the streets on T&T.

“We at the time re­mained very dis­turbed by the da­ta that was sup­plied to us by the Strate­gic Ser­vices Agency (SSA) of T&T.”

The SSA, he said, gath­ers in­tel­li­gence and in­for­ma­tion to feed dif­fer­ent arms of law en­force­ment.

“They shared with us back in 2016 some per­ti­nent facts which I should re­mind you of. Il­le­gal firearms on the streets of T&T were es­ti­mat­ed by their study to be well over 8,000.”

Hinds said the com­mit­tee felt the fig­ure was quite con­ser­v­a­tive “be­cause some of the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests far more than that. The val­ue of the il­le­gal firearms trade they told us was es­ti­mat­ed at $100 mil­lion an­nu­al­ly.”

The SSA found that a small num­ber of firearms were be­ing used in a large num­ber of crimes.

“They (SSA) used the in­for­ma­tion they got from the Foren­sic Sci­ence Cen­tre,” Hinds said.

He said gun crimes an­nu­al­ly “are in the thou­sands, many of which re­sult in mur­ders. Hand­guns were then the main weapon of choice.”

To­day, Hinds said au­to­mat­ics weapons have be­come the or­der of the day.

The guns, the SSA said, came from North and South Amer­i­ca and Eu­rope.

“They (SSA) told us that le­git­i­mate ports of en­try in this coun­try are used to smug­gle weapons. Il­le­gal points of en­try along the coast­line are used to pro­vide some of these weapons via pirogues and fast boats.”

In 2019, Hinds said the Crime and Prob­lem Analy­sis Branch of the TTPS told the com­mit­tee as the po­lice con­tin­ue to seize il­le­gal firearms dai­ly, such con­fis­ca­tion would have lit­tle im­pact “if a se­ri­ous, con­cert­ed and rad­i­cal ef­fort is not di­rect­ed at block­ing such con­tra­band in­to the coun­try.”

In 2017, the TTPS con­fis­cat­ed 1,064 il­le­gal firearms while 18,000 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion were seized.

Last year, 16,308 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion were re­cov­ered while 988 il­le­gal guns were tak­en off the streets.

For this year, 124 guns were re­trieved, the com­mit­tee heard.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Nigel De Fre­itas said the da­ta sug­gests that il­le­gal guns were com­ing in large caches.

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