Venue: Solomon Mc Cloud Lecture Theatre, Floor 5 , Police Administration Building
Date: Wednesday, May 11, 11:00 a.m.
Honorable Minister Hinds and Acting Commissioner Jacob.
Mr. Roberto Obando from the Pan American Development Foundation, thank you for traveling all the way from Washington to join us today.
Other members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, distinguished guests, and key leaders of my Embassy team Nicole Esdelle and Saleem Boochoon. Good morning.
It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
We are excited to announce the launch of our long-anticipated Gang Resistance and Community Engagement, aka GRACE, Program, implemented by the Pan American Development Foundation, or PADF, to combat gang violence in Trinidad and Tobago.
The United States government through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) here in Port of Spain has committed 1.5 million USD to this important program which will be delivered over the next 18 months from May 2022 to November 2023.
This program matters. Now more than ever we need to close the gap between what our democracies promise, and what we can deliver.
Our obligation as democratic governments, both here in Trinidad and Tobago and in the United States, is to help our fellow citizens with the biggest problems they face, including crime, insecurity, and gang violence.
As you all know, gang activity has been a pervasive issue in Trinidad and Tobago for more than 30 years. Criminal gangs in Trinidad and Tobago are responsible for a disproportionate number of criminal offences and gang activity is associated with high homicide rates, corruption, citizen insecurity, and increasingly, with transnational organized crime, such as firearms smuggling, and trafficking in persons. Sadly, recidivism rates for gang members are 22 percent higher than recidivism rates for the general population, at nearly 70 percent.
This pervasive problem is not likely to end unless we intervene. These circumstances call on all of us here today to do more, to become more deliberate in our actions, and consider how we can maximize our efforts to combat criminal gang activities.
Stronger law enforcement is critical to that effort, and it’s made more effective when we make real investments in improving our communities and in addressing the causes of crime before it spills over into violence.
That is why we are so pleased that this program will work to address the root causes of criminal gang activity within a community and seek to end it.
Rather than focusing solely on addressing the symptoms of crime, like homicides and gang violence, we must do more to address the root causes. And this program aspires to do both.
Lack of employment and educational opportunities, the need for protection and safety, and the desire for upward social mobility are all factors contributing to the proliferation of gangs. Many of the same factors that drive youth and young people to my own country are the same drivers found in Trinidad and Tobago.
The GRACE project will directly address this issue by supporting the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s ability to conduct intelligence-led investigations of gang leaders while also improving community policing initiatives and supporting grassroots organizations in areas with the highest concentration of gang activity.
This program is funded through Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which many of you know well. Through CBSI, INL assists 13 Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, to build their law enforcement and rule of law capacities.
INL programming has worked to increase the capacity of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other agencies to identify, investigate, and prosecute organized criminal groups involved in money laundering, drug and firearm trafficking, and other serious crimes. INL also aims to combat corruption and improve prosecutorial and judicial capacity, police accountability, and professionalism; and support institutional reform.
But to do this, we need partners. I thank TTPS for their partnership with the U.S. Embassy. We have long been close friends and partners, and I applaud your efforts.
PADF is an INL implementer across the western hemisphere and has performed successful crime and violence prevention programs that strengthen social cohesion while effectively addressing challenges of high crime rates.
In fact, PADF is no stranger to Trinidad and Tobago, and developed INL’s Resistance and Prevention Program (RAPP) in Trinidad and Tobago from 2014 through 2019.
RAPP saw over 700 TTPS Officers and 400 Trinbagonian government officials trained in social crime prevention.
As we all agree, gang activity is pervasive, and demands the attention of all of us – through community-based violence prevention efforts like GRACE – to best deliver for our people.
We applaud Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to democratic ideals and look forward to continued partnership with the Ministry of National Security and the TTPS as we strive to make Trinidad and Tobago a safer, more secure country for everyone.
Please stay safe. And thank you.