Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday announced that a police/army post would be set up at Duncan Street, Port-of-Spain, within the next 24 to 48 hours, as the effort to curb the recent spate of murders there was intensified. The PM said so on the compound of Building 64, where slain teen Niam Antoine had been evicted from his Housing Development Corporation apartment by gunmen, who had since been occupying it. That was where the post was to be set up, she said. Antoine and his 16-year-old cousin Rasheeda Gomez were shot dead on Wednesday. Persad-Bissessar wiped tears from her eyes as a weeping Natasha Rogers, mother of Antoine, told her of her son’s life of pain.
The apartment was open and empty when the PM, accompanied by Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Housing Development Corporation CEO Jearlean John, National Security Minister Emmanuel George, Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, Arima MP Roger Samuel, Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Winston “Gypsy” Peters, acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson visited it. “The proposal is to use this building to put an army and police post right here in the heart of Duncan Street where other exercises and initiatives will be undertaken by the commissioner with their joint forces. I think their presence here will be very important,” Persad-Bissessar added. She said other initiatives would include law enforcement officers on the ground, stop-and-search exercises, police visibility and greater mobile and aerial surveillance.
Commenting on the spike in crime in the area within recent weeks, she said there was crime everywhere. “We really mourn with the people of Duncan Street and the surrounding area,” she added. The PM said serious crime, according to police statistics, had decreased by 13 per cent “but homicides continue to haunt us.” Responding to questions, the PM said a limited state of emergency was recommended by law enforcement officers who were of the view they could contain the spike in crime in the area with their initiatives. She said increased police presence on Duncan Street had already started and would continue in the days and weeks to come as long as it was necessary. She said the Government also discussed the implementation of the anti-gang law. She added: “As we speak, I am being advised by the commissioner and the DCP that they are in discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) concerning the implementation of the anti-gang law. “I have been advised that persons have been picked up on that law but the files have to go to the DPP and they are waiting on word from him as to whether they can continue to hold them in custody.”
The PM said if someone was held under the law, they would be kept out of the public domain for four months, within which time a case could be built. She said the police had been seeking to make full use of the law to protect citizens. The implementation of the death penalty also would be looked at during the new session of Parliament, the PM said. “I think that could be a deterrent, as well, for homicide,” she added. Persad-Bissessar said residents yesterday asked her for a learning centre for their children and the Government would consider setting it up in the same building where the police post would be because it could help to curb crime.
During the PM’s visit yesterday, heavily-armed officers blocked off the area on Duncan Street where her entourage was while a national security helicopter hovered overhead and contingents of armed police and Defence Force officers stood at strategic points. The street was virtually empty before the PM arrived but when she came it came alive as people appeared from behind closed apartments and converged near her. “Look Kamla boy,” a man said. Save for a lone woman who protested loudly after the PM left, Persad-Bissessar was welcomed by residents, who even showed her a framed photograph taken with her and a child in the area, Nakidelle Morgan, to “show her how much we love her.” Persad-Bissessar later said residents did not tell her so but she felt they were pleased to note the increased police presence in the area.