Jack Warner bans release of Trinidad crime reports

October 10, 2012 - 10:34 PM
Trinidad Crime News Blackout

FILE - In this June 2, 2011 file photo, Jack Warner gestures during a news conference held shortly after his arrival at the airport in Port-of-Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, currently the National Security Minister, has forbidden police to release crime reports and statistics, saying that such information encourages people to commit more crime. (AP Photo/Shirley Bahadur, File)

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) — Former world soccer vice president Jack Warner wants to stop the release of crime reports and statistics in his capacity as Trinidad's national security minister, saying that publicizing such information encourages people to commit more crime.

"They want to make news, they want to make headlines," Warner said late Tuesday. "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 is a former vice president of the world soccer body FIFA who oversaw North American and Caribbean soccer for almost three decades. He resigned in June 2011 to avoid investigation into a bribery scandal tied to the FIFA presidential election, but has denied wrongdoing.

Many people were surprised in June when he was appointed national security minister. Shortly afterward, Warner was sharply criticized for dispatching troops and riot police to remove a protest camp built by environmentalists.

Warner's move on the release of crime reports comes as Trinidad struggles with an increased number of killings in recent years.

Trinidad's independent police service commission said it was taken aback by the order and will discuss it at an emergency meeting. The commission appoints the police chief and oversees disciplinary actions.

Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said Wednesday he had not received any orders from Warner and will continue to respond to requests for crime information from the media and the public.

"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.

Banning the release of crime information "is not a matter which the minister has authority to instruct the commissioner of police on," Williams said.

Warner did not immediately respond to Williams' comments.

Thousands of Trinidadians criticized Warner's decision via social media, radio and Internet comments sections, accusing him of violating the country's freedom of information laws and 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 one resident, Sparkle John.

Jhivan Pargass said he really doesn't like to hear about the "sickening stuff" of murders, but added that it was still important for citizens to learn about crimes.

"Yes, I need to know. Everyone needs to know and has a right to know exactly what nefarious acts occur in their own country and precisely when. It's simply part of being cognizant of events," Pargass said.

Warner also drew fire for blaming the opposition People's National Movement in the killing of a man who was shot nearly 30 times Tuesday in Laventille, southeast of the capital. "This could be avoided if the PNM weren't sponsoring crime," Warner said without elaborating.

Legislator Nielung Hypolite, who represents the region where the killing occurred, called Warner's statements "irresponsible" and said the political movement has always fought against crime.