T&T is once again griped by the fear of crime, as murders increase to levels not seen since pre-pandemic years.
As of yesterday at least 83 people have been murdered for the year. There are reports of several robberies and even kidnappings. Yes, the crime situation is bad!
Former Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has sought to make this about him and the lack of renewal of his contract as the top cop, and while I hold no brief for Griffith, there is some evidence to suggest that since his departure the numbers have gone up.
It could simply be that the economy is reopening, or the impact or the crippling health measures, which have not really kept us safe but have damaged the economy, and which may have now led to greater desperation by some.
Or it could be the manifestation of the dark underbelly of our society as the increasing underclass feel that their only way to survive, settle scores or even be heard is through the barrel of a gun.
Whatever is the root cause, the reality is that the wave of crime is a major risk and a cost to businesses at a time they can least afford it.
While many of the larger businesses in the country have shown resilience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, small and medium enterprises have been reeling from the measures and the general downturn in the economy.
The resurgence of the criminal elements, particularly robberies and murders, will lead to both lost opportunity and also additional costs to businesses.
Perhaps at this stage we can look at a practical example of how crime may hurt a small business. If people feel unsafe in going to a particular mall because their cars may be stolen or they may be robbed in the car park or car jacked, that impacts the brand of the mall and its tenants. It makes some people reluctant to shop there, especially if they have options. It leads to more resources being spent on security and for store owners, it is lost opportunity to earn revenue.
This is the kind of challenge businesses are facing everyday and which we may not always report on but which has an impact on businesses and their bottom line.
The present Police Commissioner and the Minister of National Security do not inspire confidence that they can find the measures to roll back the violence and, importantly, improve our detection rate.
The almost collapse of the criminal justice system, where it takes a decade to have a murder trial completed, where the detection rate is less than 15 per cent for murders and the conviction rate even lower are among the reasons why the criminal elements feel emboldened and certain that they can commit the offences without facing justice.
Is there anything that the Commissioner or Minister Hinds have said or shown to the country that gives you the impression they have a real chance of success?
But the situation is worse than even the official statistics reveal because you and I know that there are many people who have crimes committed against them and do not report it to the police.
An IDB report from 2016 points this reality.
It noted that generally it has been found that official crime statistics underestimate the level of victimisation when compared to self-reported victimisation data. For example, victimisation reported on the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey revealed incidence of domestic violence was 6.3 times higher, and the number of robberies 4.6 times higher, than in official crime data.
“Despite their shortcomings, however, official crime data are important in estimating the level of victimisation, since the most serious crimes tend to be captured in such data. It is widely accepted, for example, that murder statistics tend to be fairly accurate because of the seriousness of the crime. Both self-reported victimisation and official statistics are analysed in this report,” the IDB report read.
It added that official crime data for the period from 1990-2013 indicate an annual average of 242 murders, 553 woundings and shootings, 4,217 robberies, 5,747 burglaries and break-ins, 247 rapes, and 127 kidnappings. During the final five years of this period there was an annual average of 423 murders, 594 woundings and shootings, 4,445 robberies, 4,492 burglaries and break-ins, 232 rapes, and 139 kidnappings.
Data for 2013 indicate that there were 30.4 murders, 40.5 woundings and shootings, 221 robberies, 222 burglaries and break-ins, 16 rapes, and 8.7 kidnappings per 100,000 inhabitants in T&T.
There is nothing to suggest that six years and $10 billion later things have changed from where we were in 2016.
Perceptions of high levels of violent crime, together with businesses’ actual experience of serious crimes such as robbery and burglary, create considerable opportunity costs for individual enterprises and the broader economy. Because of crime, many businesses limit their operations, and are reluctant to expand.
Businesses that have been directly affected by crime are less likely to increase their employment, have to contend with the effects of fear of crime among customers/clients and suppliers, which can result in loss of passing trade and in difficulties accessing stock. Businesses may also reduce the levels of expensive equipment and stock they keep on their premises and the avoidance of cash transactions where possible. There is also the reality of reduced operating hours in an effort to reduce risk of crime.
The capital city that becomes a ghost town after 6 pm is an example of how difficult and unsustainable it is to have a business that operates late into the evening in a city that is a crime zone and where many fear to thread after hours. Instead, it has forced the nightlife to move to areas in Woodbrook where people may feel slightly safer.
Businesses have already been badly hit by the impact of the pandemic. Government must take action now to arrest the wave of crime, even if it means changes to those who are leading the fight.