Trinidad and Tobago Country Profile

12/02/2015

Key Statistics

Population: 1,34 million (World Bank, 2014)

Capital: Port of Spain

Languages: English (official), Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), French, Spanish, Chinese

Major Ethnic Groups: East Indian 35.4%, African 34.2%, mixed - other 15.3%, mixed African/East Indian 7.7%, other 1.3%, unspecified 6.2%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 
22,209 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 21,830 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 4,050 (Military Balance, 2014)

Small Arms: The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians is 30,000; the defence forces are reported to have 6,500 firearms; and Police are reported to have 9,000 firearms (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: 1.3% of GDP (World Bank, 2009)

Executive Summary

One of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has had trouble controlling violence in recent years. Over the past decade its murder rate rose 400%, though it has declined in recent years. The government instituted a nearly four-month “state of emergency” in August 2011 to try and reduce violence, but the country is in need of a more comprehensive, long-term strategy to combat gang-related crime.

Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial system is widely perceived as corrupt. Case backlogs and judicial inefficiencies mean that those indicted for a crime often face long periods of pre-trial detention.  The police force is generally distrusted by the population, and it has faced accusations of excessive use of force.

There are opportunities to support initiatives aimed at improving preventative measures for youth involvement in gangs and transitioning towards a community policing model.

Security and Justice Context

In the past decade, violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago has risen dramatically. From 2000 to 2012, the homicide rate climbed from 9.3 per 100,000 inhabitants to 30.9, peaking in 2008 at 41.1 per 100,000 (See Figure 1.). Over half of these murders involve street gangs whose main income stems from local drug dealing and robberies.  In 2009, the police estimated that some 80 gangs were active with a combined membership of 1,200. This was up from roughly 25 gangs seven years earlier.

trinidad1

Fig. 1 Trinidad and Tobago Homicide Rate 2000-2012

Due to its proximity to Venezuela and its porous borders, Trinidad and Tobago serves as an important strategic location for drug traffickers moving cocaine and marijuana from South America on to markets in the United States and Europe. The government has recently increased the scale and frequency of counter narcotics operations, including joint police and military operations.

Trinidad and Tobago has several local drug-trafficking networks, some of which have evolved into organised crime groups. Jamaat al Muslimeen[1] , a group that unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the government in 1990, is perhaps the most well-known and reportedly involved in criminal activity including extortion, kidnapping, arms trafficking, and drug trafficking.

In the early 2000s, the government of Trinidad and Tobago faced accusations that many high-level officials, including the prime minister, had ties to gang leaders. Gang leaders often led parallel public lives as "community leaders," and the government sometimes attempted to intervene to negotiate truces between the largest gangs. This has changed somewhat in recent years, but in the interim the fewer, more organised gangs have been replaced by many smaller gangs.

In addition to the threats posed by the drug trade and youth involvement in gangs, the prevalence of illegal firearms is a source of instability in the country. The rate of firearms offenses has decreased since peaking in 2005 at 66 offenses per 100,000 people, but the rates remain high with 72 percent of homicides in 2009 committed using firearms. The global average is 42 percent.

Obtaining a gun legally is a lengthy, difficult process, and the majority of guns in the country are obtained illicitly. In 2007 it was estimated that less than 40 percent of privately owned firearms in Trinidad and Tobago were registered. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[2] has estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean.

In August 2011 the government declared a temporary "state of emergency" due to drug violence. This measure granted police the power to make arrests without charges, conduct searches without warrants, and seize property. More than 7,000 people were detained, some without offering any charges. It also imposed a curfew in six criminal "hotspots" throughout the country that lasted more than 70 days. According to the prime minister, violent crime fell dramatically during the state of emergency, which expired on December 5, 2011.

In October 2012 Security Minister Jack Warner declared that the government would not release crime reports and statistics for an unspecified period, in order to avoid "sensationalising" crime. This decision appears to have been politically motivated; he accused political opposition of using crime statistics to encourage chaos. The acting police commissioner responded that the security ministry did not have the authority to ban the release of statistics and that the police would continue to do so.

The government's use of the state of the emergency, which they did not say was in reaction to any particular catastrophic event, does not bode well for a longer fight against organised crime. The long-term costs of measures such as this outweigh the short-term benefits. The police have faced accusations of misconduct during the state of emergency, and the large-scale arrests served to fill the prisons with young offenders, rather than to break the island's street gangs. Many of those rounded up were later released due to lack of evidence.

Trinidad and Tobago serves as a source and transit point for human trafficking networks with women and girls from South America and other Caribbean nations subjected to sex trafficking on the islands. The country received a Tier 2[3] rating in 2012 from the US State Department meaning that it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for tackling human trafficking, though is making efforts to do so.

Perception of Insecurity

According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the overall perception of insecurity has fallen in recent years, dropping from 33.9 points in 2010 to 30.5 points in 2012[4] (See Figure 2.). This gave the country the fifth best score in out of the 26 countries surveyed.

Despite the comparatively low perception of insecurity, 71 percent of respondents in 2010 stated that the current crime situation “very much” represents a threat to the future well-being of the country. According to the results of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2010 Citizen Security Survey, the percentage of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who fear becoming a victim of crime (55.9 percent) is higher than that of any other English-speaking Caribbean country, even though crime is higher in Jamaica. 22.6 percent of respondents reported being the victim of a crime within the past 10 years. 

Fig. 2 Trinidad and Tobago Perception of Insecurity 2010 and 2012

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

Trinidad and Tobago's legal system is based on British law. The judicial branch is independent, although it does face some political pressure. Local Magistrates’ Courts with limited jurisdiction preside over minor criminal and civil cases. The highest court is the Supreme Court, and there is also a separate Court of Appeal. As a former British Colony, the highest court of appeal for Trinidad and Tobago is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, United Kingdom.

In 2012, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared that Trinidad and Tobago would move to switch appellate jurisdiction on criminal matters from the JCPC to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)[5] , inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)[6] .  However, there was no mention of moving appellate jurisdiction on civil and constitutional matters.

The Ministry of the Attorney General houses the country’s Solicitor General and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), among other bodies. The Solicitor General acts as the state’s legal representative while the DPP is an independent body and the principal prosecution authority in the country responsible for pursuing criminal prosecutions.

The Attorney General is a member of government and responsible for the administration of legal affairs in the country.

The Office of the Ombudsman handles complaints by citizens who feel they have been treated unfairly by any government institution.

Trinidad and Tobago’s judicial system suffers from corruption and inefficiency. In September 2011, the justice minister stated that there was a backlog of 100,000 criminal cases in the Magistrates’ Courts and 1,000 cases in the High Courts, adding that it would take 10 years to clear the backlog of existing murder cases. One Justice of the Peace has cited this backlog as being “a danger to the country,” and said more judges and magistrates were needed if this was ever going to be cleared.

According to some estimates, fewer than 20 percent of violent crimes are ever solved. Problems in evidence processing in the Trinidad and Tobago’s crime labs have also caused major delays in the judicial system. The massive backlog of unprocessed ballistics evidence in firearms cases has also likely contributed to the rise in homicides and shootings because it has allowed violent repeat offenders to remain free.

According to the results of the UNDP’s 2010 Citizen Security Survey, nearly 70 percent of citizens in Trinidad and Tobago believe that the justice system is corrupt. Only 55.5 percent of respondents believed that the authorities should always have to abide by the law to catch criminals. This puts Trinidad and Trinidad at the low end of countries in Latin America for support for the rule of law, and in sharp contrast with other countries in the Caribbean like Jamaica, which has the highest support for the rule of law in Latin America. One possible explanation for this is low trust in the justice system, meaning citizens may feel it is acceptable or even necessary to go around the judiciary to obtain justice. 

Long pre-trial detention is a major problem due to court backlogs and judicial inefficiencies, with 2012 figures showing that almost 30 percent of the prison population is comprised of pre-trial detainees and prisoners on remand. Some people who are indicted must wait years for their trial dates. Despite this problem, the country’s penitentiaries were running at 84 percent capacity in 2011. Prisoners have access to the Office of the Ombudsman to make complaints.

The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service is responsible for running the penitentiary system and is housed under the Ministry of National Security.

Security Institutions

Along with the Prison Service, the Ministry of National Security houses the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF).

According to the 2011 Small Arms Survey, in 2010 Trinidad and Tobago had 6,500 police officers, putting the police to population ratio at 493 police per 100,000 people.

Human rights organisations have criticised the excessive use of force by the police. During the state of emergency, there were reports of police killings during apprehension or custody, and of poor treatment of suspects and detainees. While some members of the security forces have been punished, there is still a widespread perception of impunity due to the slow pace of criminal justice proceedings.

Public confidence in the police is very low. According to the UNDP, only 9.9 percent of Trinidad and Tobago residents had confidence in the police being able to control gang violence in 2010, giving it the lowest ranking out of the seven countries surveyed[7] . The Police Complaints Authority has a backlog of more than 11,000 cases from 2007 to 2011, not counting the complaints received in 2012. Some officials have publicly made allegations about police officers having gang ties.

Trinidad and Tobago’s armed forces are primarily tasked with external defence, but have also been increasingly involved in internal security. The TTDF has a total strength of around 5,100 personnel, split between the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard, and the Defence Force Reserves. During the state of emergency, the TTDF deployed personnel and aircraft in support of the police force, conducting surveillance, raids, and roadblocks.

In the 2010 UNDP survey, 53 percent of respondents believed that the government should rely on the military more for controlling crime.

Of those surveyed in Trinidad and Tobago, 14.8 percent reported having been the victim of corruption (e.g. having been asked to pay a bribe). Reports of corruption among the police, the armed forces, and customs officials are also frequent, and many officials are not properly or routinely vetted. In the past, at the government’s request, the US government has helped with vetting officials and officers of elite police units.

The government has developed a National Policy built on seven pillars, two of which are focused on good governance and security respectively. This covers the period 2012-2015.  With regard to security, the overarching aim is to bring down crime significantly and improve both personal security and the justice system.  These issues have been deemed “Medium-Term Priorities.” The government plans to address them by reducing the backlog in the courts, reviewing the prison system, and improving police performance, among other measures.

State of Security and Justice Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

The Ministry of Justice was created in 2010 and began operating in 2011. The aim was to improve the speed of the judicial system and to begin a “paradigm shift” from retributive to restorative justice. In 2011, the government passed several anti-crime laws, including legislation on gangs and firearms.

To expedite the judicial process, in December 2011 the government enacted a bill to end the system of preliminary enquiries and replace it with sufficiency hearings, although this has not been without controversy. The Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, 2011, was intended to institute a new pre-trial system for serious crimes and reduce pre-trial waiting time. However Statute 34 of the act, which put a statute of limitation on crimes committed more than 10 years before criminal proceedings are commenced, was repealed in September 2012 due to concern that this could allow public officials charged with corruption to avoid prosecution.

With the support of UNDP, in recent years Trinidad and Tobago undertook a comprehensive decentralisation program designed to deliver judicial services more efficiently to citizens throughout the islands.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

Trinidad and Tobago spent about 13.9 percent of its 2010 budget on security, highlighting the importance placed by the government on improving security.

One important initiative that involves collaboration between the government, non-government organisations (NGOs), and community based organizations is the Citizen Security Programme (CSP). The CSP, which began in 2008, is an initiative of the Ministry of National Security aimed at using preventative interventions to reduce violence and increase the perception of safety in 22 pilot high-risk communities. The programme has many elements: efforts to increase community involvement in citizen security and improve cooperation between communities and the government, financing of activities aimed at improving the public’s perception of the police and increasing positive police-public interaction, and institutional strengthening of the Ministry of National Security. The government received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank for the implementation of the initiative.

In April 2012, the TTPS launched the "21st Century Policing Initiative," an ambitious reform effort intended to expand police capacity and improve community involvement. The August 2011 dissolution of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT), a "special forces" police unit without a clear legal mandate, also increased the resources available to the TTPS. As a result of the reforms in recruitment and training, the number of new officers increased, and the number of officers assigned to the Organised Crime, Narcotics, and Firearms Bureau (OCNFB) increased 10 percent.

In 2011, the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) adopted the Declaration on Small Arms and Light Weapons, a regional initiative aimed at reducing gun crime in the region and improving regional cooperation in the field of arms trafficking.

Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, Trinidad and Tobago has received aid to help increase the capacity of its police through training programs and technical assistance, as well being the beneficiary of aid to improve port security and help implement education programs to help facilitate entry into the workforce for the country’s youth.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

One of the major problems facing Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament with regards to providing effective oversight is that it has a relatively small membership and being a Member of Parliament (MP) is not a full-time occupation. This means that MPs typically have other careers and oversight committees do not have a substantial pool of professionals from which to draw. Therefore, in some cases ministers end up serving on committees which calls into question their ability to effectively hold the government to account[8] .

Parliamentary committees are generally considered transparent though there is a concern about the lack of engagement with civil society groups.

As of 2012, there were five oversight committees; three Departmental Joint Select Committees (JSC) and two Public Accounts Committees.

Security and Justice Opportunities

In the 2012 edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Trinidad and Tobago ranked 80th out of 176 countries. This in an improvement compared to 2011, when it ranked 91st , though the low ranking shows corruption is still a significant concern and could present an obstacle to effective engagement on reform efforts.

Justice Sector Opportunities

Perhaps the most important reform priority is improving the judicial system. Trinidad and Tobago may not require the kind of massive judicial overhaul that other countries in the region are attempting to implement, but nevertheless the system’s inefficiencies and lack of sufficient oversight have led to a massive backlog and a reputation for corruption. Improving the justice system will also likely improve support for the rule of law amongst the public.

Potential ways to streamline the judicial process include establishing dedicated drug courts, implementing plea-bargaining, and improving the utilisation of forensic evidence. To improve the credibility of the system and enhance public confidence in law enforcement institutions, more funding is needed for investigating fraud and bribery. 

Security Sector Opportunities

Trinidad and Tobago needs a better long-term strategy for dealing with violence and controlling gangs. This means better prevention programmes aimed at keeping youths out of gangs, better programmes to help gang members leave criminal groups, and better training for police on how to deal with young offenders. The Citizen Security Programme, which has partnered with international actors such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the past, presents a good opportunity for collaboration. The CSP’s efforts to help the TTPS move towards a community policing model are particularly important for improving public confidence in the law enforcement.

As the LAPOP survey indicated, the majority of citizens in Trinidad and Tobago believe that it is acceptable for the police to occasionally break the law in order to apprehend criminals. Better police accountability and oversight mechanisms are needed to ensure there is no impunity for police misconduct.

In the past the government has been open to inviting the help of outside actors, particularly in the area of police reform. During a previous push for reform in 2006, the government invited American academic experts and law enforcement officials from the United States and the United Kingdom to help improve the police force.

Civil Society Actors for Engagement

The majority of Trinidad and Tobago's NGOs focus on issues such as social justice, gender discrimination and violence, and protection of vulnerable children. Some groups, such as Citizens for a Better Trinidad and Tobago, have traditionally focused on all kinds of violence (rape, domestic violence) and drug abuse, but lately have turned their energy toward rising violent crime.

Most of the pressure on issues such as police abuse and the use of special policing powers has come from international NGOs such as Amnesty International.

Resources

Ministry of Planning and Economy (Trinidad and Tobago), “National Development Agenda for Trinidad and Tobago,” August 2011

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

Small Arms Survey, “Small Arms Survey 2012: Moving Targets,” August 2012

Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, “Trinidad and Tobago – Gun Facts, Figures and Law,” Data retrieved from http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/trinidad-and-tobago

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” November 2012 (Preliminary Version)

The Small Arms Survey, “No Other Life: Gangs, Guns, and Governance in Trinidad and Tobago,” December 2009

The University of the West Indies, “The Political Culture of Democracy in Trinidad and Tobago: 2010: Democracy in Action,” June 2010

TRANSTEC Project Management, “A Study on Parliamentary Scrutiny and Existing Parliamentary Practice,” February 2012

United Nations Development Program, “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012,” February 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” June 2012

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “Trinidad and Tobago 2013 Crime and Safety Report,” January 2013

Endnotes

[1] Despite being a Muslim organisation and having a radical stance, there are no known connections between Jamaat al Muslimeen and global Islamic terrorist groups.

[2] The ACCP has a membership of 24 Caribbean nations and is designed to facilitate cooperation between the region’s police forces and help with the development of officers’ technical skills and professionalism. 

[3] The United States rates countries from highest to lowest: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3.

[4] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.

[5] The CCJ sits in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

[6] CARICOM is an organisation comprised of 15 nations and aims to promote economic integration and cooperation between its member states.

[7] The other countries were Jamiaca, Guyana, Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Barbados and Suriname.

[8] The UNDP is funding a programme from 2012-2013 to help strengthen parliament. 

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.
Organisation

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.

Organisation