Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds says a collaborative effort between different agencies locally and internationally is needed to properly address the entry of weapons into Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking at a destruction exercise for confiscated, obsolete and unserviceable weapons at the Police Training Academy, St James, on Monday, Hinds said a united front was critical to clamping down on the influx and use of illegal weapons.
The ceremony also marked the signing of a MOU between Caricom IMPACS and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) on the framework for the destruction of weapons and explosives in the region.
Referring to the Prime Minister's announcement that crime would be treated as a public health emergency, Hinds went further, saying like TT's response to the covid19 pandemic, a multi-pronged approach involving different agencies was needed.
He said this was: "A view that is now shared by the government of TT and certainly the government of Jamaica, that crime and criminality, the crisis that we face, must now be seen as it probably should have long been, as a public health issue.
"The context we meet in today, particularly with the signing of the MOU between MAG and Carcicom IMPACS, is a reflection of the kind and the necessity of the collaboration and the co-ordination that we must have in dealing with this public health issue in the same way we saw covid19 and dealt with it."
Referring to a meeting between US President Joe Biden and regional leaders at the Summit of the Americas in June, Hinds said assistance from the US in tackling the influx of illegal weapons into the Caribbean was under way.
He also noted that as well as illegal guns, there were concerns that legal firearms could also be a problem if they ended up in the hands of criminals.
"That intervention didn't have only to deal with illegal firearms, but concerns about legal firearms in TT that can possibly and in some cases actually have made their way to illegal hands and efforts."
Referring to intelligence gathered by the authorities, Hinds said there were an estimated 12,000 illegal firearms but noted that over the last five years, the police had seized 4,000 firearms and 90,000 rounds of ammunition.
Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob said on average 87 per cent of murders were caused by guns, and the police were working to remove guns from the streets.
He said for the year thus far, the police were close to seizing 500 guns and praised the gun-destruction initiative, as it would dispel the notion of illegal weapons being recycled by corrupt police.
"It also reduces the opportunities for officers who may be tempted to carry out this adverse act of returning firearms to the streets in the hands of criminal elements.
"This venture is another positive signal of the TTPS' intentions to address the violent crime situation in the country by reducing the possibilities of these firearms reaching or returning to the streets."
Speaking with Newsday after the ceremony, regional director of the MAG Adam Komorowski said the collaboration marked the start of weapons destruction in TT as training in proper weapons disposal for police and soldiers continued.
He said over the next week, about 1,000 weapons would be destroyed at the Police Academy using power saws to ensure the guns were left entirely unusable.