In a gesture worthy of George Orwell’s “1984,” the national security minister of Trinidad and Tobago has ordered the police of the small Caribbean nation to cease publishing statistics of murder and other violent crimes.
Jack Warner said such reports only encouraged people to commit more crimes.
"They want to make news, they want to make headlines," Warner said.
"I decided with immediate effect that no figures of any kind will be given anywhere. ... I've also instructed the police not to reveal any figures on murders anywhere, anytime."
Warner further explained: "The intent of this measure is to seek to ensure that crime statistics are not sensationalized, thereby acting as a domino effect in certain hot-spot areas. The issue is not about withholding the statistics. It is about the management of the sensitive information that has the potential to inflame additional crime -- particularly when treating the issue of gangs."
He also accused the opposition People’s National Movement party of using police statistics to stir up trouble in the country, sparking fury from the opposition.
“This [violence] could be avoided if the PNM weren’t sponsoring crime,” Warner said.
But acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said he will ignore Warner’s order, noting that the police are legally obligated to disclose crime figures.
"The matter of dissemination of information to the public is one which I believe the police service has a legal obligation to fulfill, and we will in fact be fulfilling our legal obligation," Williams said.
"[This] is not a matter which the minister has authority to instruct the commissioner of police on."
Warner, a former vice president of FIFA, the global soccer organization, is a controversial figure, who was once accused of handing out bribes to Caribbean football associations in connection with a FIFA presidential election. (He denied any wrongdoing)
According to the TTCrime.com website, murders in the country have actually been decreasing. Reaching a peak of 550 homicides in 2008, the number of killings has fallen to 354 in 2011, and 314 so far this year.
Warner’s call to halt the release of murder data came in the wake of a high-profile killing of a young man named Stephon Morris in Laventille, a particularly poor and dangerous ward in Trinidad. Morris was shot almost 30 times.
Thousands of Trinidadians criticized Warner on social media, in some cases, calling for his resignation.
“We need to keep abreast of social matters. How else would we know whether or not there has been an improvement? The public must not be kept in the dark with regard to the stats,” said someone named Sparkle John, according to the Associated Press.
Felicia Persaud, the CEO of Hard Beat Communications in New York and an expert on Caribbean matters, commented on the Warner imbroglio: "Given that Trinidad and Tobago is a democratic nation, it boggles my mind that a minister of [Prime Minister] Kamla Persaud Bissessar’s administration would make such a decision. It gives the impression that there is something worth hiding and that the crime rates may mean [Trinidad and Tobago] is still among the nations in the world with the most murders per capita."
Still, crime, much of it fueled by drug trafficking, remains a serious problem in the country. Located just off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago comprises a little more than 1.3 million people, primarily of East Indian and African origin. The islands have become a major hub of cocaine shipments originating in South America.