One man is in police custody in connection with the recent robberies of Chinese businesses along Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain. This has been confirmed by acting Senior Superintendent of the Port-of-Spain Division Neil Brandon-John, who also said in the last three weeks, six Chinese establishments had also been robbed by a group of six to ten men.
To avoid this from recurring, Brandon-John said starting Monday, the police, including Municipal police, will collaborate with the Defence Force to conduct foot patrols in an attempt to protect businesses on Charlotte Street and in Port-of-Spain.
This decision was taken after Chinese Embassy officials met with the Acting Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob and National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds over the weekend. According to Hinds, there were similar attacks against the community in 2014/2015 and they implemented a plan that worked well but it was discontinued.
“To increase our vigilance or our presence on the Charlotte Street area as well, as there is also a more intense operation that will take place that we don’t really want to have too much public information on, but that will be more focused on the deviant elements within in the environment,” Brandon-John said.
He said information suggested that some of the robbers were from neighbouring communities.
One of the victims of a robbery told Guardian Media, “First, three men came inside then after more men, apparently like six of them, in the business place and everybody wearing full face masks and they came to rob the building, take money in the two registers, hold me up.”
The victim, who asked to remain anonymous, said at least one of the men were armed and they stole thousands of dollars from their cash registers.
“They have their duty too just like officers, they come out to rob so they have their scouts all over Charlotte Street watching people business,” he said.
Downtown Owners Merchants Association (DOMA) Gregory Aboud said the Chinese community was being intentionally targeted.
“It is an incredible case of advantage that is being taken and that opinions exist in the wider society that Chinese citizens to Trinidad are an easy target,” he said.
He said DOMA’s mission in the last week has been to get protection from the police for the Chinese community on Charlotte Street.
In CCTV footage obtained by Guardian Media, the masked men were seen walking into the store and demanding the cashier open the register. They then filled their pockets with the money and any close by items like cigarettes and alcohol.
“They have not been interested in the fact that there is video coverage in the stores, in one of two of the shops that were robbed there is a video system set up as you enter and a screen is there to show you that you are being recorded and despite that they were able to still come in and do what they had to do,” Aboud explained.
He cautioned anyone doing business in the area to be on the lookout for these men and advised that business owners or distributions postpone transactions if necessary.
“They are operating in gangs usually not less than six persons, so if you are on Charlotte Street delivering goods and you see four or five or six young men wearing these fall faced ski-type masks you are to be on alert…until they have passed,” he warned.
One woman who has been working on the street for over two decades said she has never witnessed such crimes and had been uneasy even before the store she works in was robbed.
“It had us feeling very uncomfortable, we was always looking out looking over our shoulders…being in Charlotte Street so long you know you walking free, you know practically every business, you know your customers, it come like your second home, so it never had an uncomfortable feeling but when we keep seeing it happen that kind of had us like real scared,” she said
The Chinese business owner said they are looking for more meetings with those in authority to combat crime on Charlotte Street and believes the foot patrols will make a difference.