Trinidad’s Minister of National Security, Stuart Richard Young.
Office of the Prime Minister, Trinidad

Violent crimes linked to gangs armed with high powered weapons smuggled from South America and the United States continue to trouble authorities in Trinidad and Jamaica with the two accounting for nearly 500 murders with a mere 14 weeks completed for this year so far.

The situation is of such concern in Trinidad that authorities there are moving to take the highly unusual steps in the region of acquiring weapons with carry permits for the country’s prison officers because ex-convicts and their friends are gunning them down in record numbers.

No other country in the Caribbean Community grouping of 15 nations can boast of having on record 28 prison guards being killed by convicts or gang members in the past three decades like Trinidad and no other government is moving to arm as many officers like those in Trinidad. Of the 28, 16 have been gunned down in the past decade.

Trinidad’s Minister of National Security, Stuart Richard Young announced in the past week plans for government to acquire 250 hand guns for officers to carry round the clock to protect themselves. The move comes just two months after cabinet had also bought 250 “stab vests” for officers to wear to protect themselves while on duty.

“It shocked me that the prison officers did not have stab vests in the environment, we’ve delivered that and have immediately began the procurement of more,” the minister said. “Our officers have been under threat on many occasions and many of them have died over the course of the last few years. At least these keep and carry firearms will allow us some level of protection against these people who constantly threaten our lives,” he told Guardian Media.

These unprecedented but novel moves by the security ministry come as governments in Trinidad and Jamaica are battling to keep the murder rates down. For the year so far, Jamaica police have recorded an astonishing 360 murders while Trinidad remains on course for another tough year with 130 so far. Jamaica counted 1,287 murders last year and 1,641 in 2017. Trinidad followed with 516. That tally was only second to 550 in 2008, easily the highest number killed in any year in recorded history.

Young said that the officers will be given guns to protect themselves in the wake of blatant attacks on officers, mostly at their homes. Contracts for the weapons have been finalized and these should be in holsters and in the possession of guards as early as next month.

“We will look at those under threat and who currently do not have firearms, so those would be the first persons to be issued. And there will be some level of assessment before issuing the firearms to persons. We do have a policy as relates to issuing of keep and carry and will adhere to that policy,” the minister noted.

The officers association has welcomed the move contending that it will certainly lower the stress levels of officers currently on roster.

The murderous attacks on officers have not made it easy for the ministry to recruit officers. Figures show that there should be 4,211 officers when the service is at full strength. Only 2,910 are on the roster. Vacancies exist throughout the service officials say.

In Jamaica meanwhile, some sections of the business community on the island’s tourist capital of Montego Bay argue that there is no need for a second state of emergency imposition in the parish to stem violent crimes even as 42 killings have been recorded so far this year.

Emergency powers were lifted in January after a year and were credited with keeping the rate at only 102 murders compared to 341 in 2017.

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