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An ongoing security operation against gangs across Trinidad and Tobago is unlikely to significantly lower the high rate of crime there over the coming months.

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 14 November 2023.

  • We assess that the poor security environment in Trinidad and Tobago is unlikely to improve in the coming months, despite an ongoing security operation
  • Media reports suggest that the government is deploying a small number of defence troops to support police operations from now through Carnival in early 2024
  • These efforts are likely to be focused on the northern and southern divisions, based on the latest official crime statistics

On 30 October, officials announced that 100 national troops will support police operations to improve security conditions ahead of and during the upcoming festive period. This will reportedly last until Carnival in February 2024. But other police initiatives to stem violent crime, particularly gang violence, have failed so far this year. The available details about the latest initiative suggest it will probably have a similar result. Our countrywide general crime risk level remains severe.

Security operations ahead of festive seasons

The latest official data suggest that crime nationwide has reduced over the past 18 months. Data from the national police service shows that the 7,725 crimes perpetrated this year (from January through September) is a 3% decrease compared to the same period last year. But local press reports and comments by local officials contradict police crime data. In a social media post on 31 October, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that the ‘disregard for human life in Trinidad and Tobago has now gone beyond concerning to the ridiculous.’

The prime minister’s comments are consistent with travel advisories by several major Western governments. The governments of France, the US, and the UK all warn travellers to exercise heightened vigilance, citing increasing levels of violent crime driven by gang activity. However, there is differing advice among these; while the former advises that this is the case nationwide, the UK FCDO suggests that the island of Tobago is significantly safer than Trinidad.

In any case, these travel advisories also recommend travellers to avoid some areas of the capital Port of Spain. For example, the US prohibits its staff from travelling to Beetham, Cocorite, Laventille, Sea Lots and the interior of Queen’s Park Savannah at all times (they are not allowed to go to central Port of Spain after dark). France and the UK also warn their citizens about crime in Barataria and Morvant.

There also appear to be seasonal shifts in criminal activity, particularly in Port of Spain. The UK FCDO warns that ‘there are higher levels of theft and opportunistic crime during the carnival period’, even though there is an increased police presence at large-scale events. Comments made by users of online travel forums suggest that there is a yearly increase in crime during Carnival celebrations. In our analysis, this is because the sudden influx of tourism creates an ideal environment for criminals to perpetrate robberies and thefts.

As during the rest of the year, we assess that petty theft and robbery are the primary risks to travellers in Trinidad and Tobago during the Christmas and Carnival holidays. Local media reporting and comments by users of online travel forums suggest that travellers perceived as being wealthy or showing signs of affluence are the most likely to be targeted. Reflecting this, the UK FCDO recommends that citizens not walk alone in deserted areas, carry large amounts of cash or wear eye-catching jewellery.

Poor security environment likely to persist

The primary goal of the ongoing police operation is to reduce the rate of crime over the coming months, according to comments made by senior government officials in the press. These media reports suggest that the government has deployed 100 defence force troops to provide operational support to the national police from now until Carnival in February 2024. Officials have not said where the operations will be focused. But we assess that they will most likely occur in the northern and southern police divisions, given this is where violent crime has been most prevalent so far this year, according to official data.

We assess that the security operation is unlikely to make the country significantly safer. This is because similar crime reduction initiatives carried out over the past year have failed, according to local press reports. The available details about the operation suggest that the government is not committed to devoting the necessary resources to fundamentally improve the high-risk security environment. In our assessment, the high probability of exposure to serious criminal threats, such as armed robberies, is highly likely to persist over the Christmas and Carnival festivities.

Image: Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Keith Rowley, speaks during a plenary session of the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, on 10 June 2022. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images.