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Criminology professor tackles crime in Trinidad

May 13, 2005

Photo of Jeff Snipes standing next to a Trinidad and Tobago policewomanJeff Snipes, assistant professor of criminal justice, has been in the Caribbean for more than three months -- but he's not on vacation.

Snipes is coordinating a high-priority, $1 million police department reform effort in Trinidad and Tobago, two islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, just northeast of Venezuela. Combined, the two islands are slightly smaller than the state of Delaware. Although he's surrounded by lush greenery and picturesque beaches, Snipes explains that there is trouble in paradise.

"A transformation effort of this scope is rare for police organizations," Snipes says. "Usually, organizations attempt to undergo one change at a time, thereby making the whole process gradual. The rapidly rising crime rate and concern about police service quality make this a very high priority."

Rising crime and public safety problems -- including homicides, kidnappings and traffic fatalities -- prompted the Ministry of National Security in Trinidad and Tobago to ask crime experts to help formulate a reformation plan. A single national police force -- not local departments -- enforces law throughout both islands.

Trinidad and Tobago's population is 1.2 million. The homicide rate per 100,000 citizens in 2004 was 21.4 percent. The number of homicides has more than doubled in the past five years.

The police force has no money for breathalyzers or radar equipment, so there are no drunk-driving arrests, and speeding is rampant in Trinidad and Tobago. More guns are coming into the country through unguarded ports, and crack cocaine and youth gangs have become more prevalent, Snipes says.

"In Trinidad I don't think there is the sense that they had a good police department that suddenly went bad," Snipes says. "The police service has always been challenged. Certain changes in societal conditions, coupled with ineffective police action, have spurred rising crime rates."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani presented a reform plan to the Ministry, but they chose a plan submitted by Snipes and Stephen Mastrofski of George Mason University. Mastrofski also has a decades-long track record for police reform work, Snipes says.

Snipes is the only full-time, on-site coordinator in Trinidad and Tobago, but Mastrofski and fellow George Mason University Professor Edward Maguire take frequent trips to the islands to collaborate with Snipes.

Martin Joseph, the Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago, requested Snipes because of his previous police reform efforts in the United States. Snipes spent several months analyzing spending for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and has evaluated community policing efforts for police departments in Indianapolis, Ind., Richmond, Va., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Snipes is creating a merit-based promotions system for police officers and is revitalizing the police complaints (internal affairs) division of the police department. He's also investigating police corruption, improving the department's ability to collect and analyze crime data, and revising officer training curricula for police recruits and supervisors.

Snipes is teaching crime control seminars to police managers, developing a plan to reduce homicides and researching patterns in traffic fatalities. He's been setting up computers, training officers in crime data analysis and conducting police integrity surveys.

"Merely seeing what needs to be done is only 10 percent of the answer here," Snipes says. "The other 90 percent is making it happen."

Snipes will resume teaching criminology courses in the fall.

-- Student Writer Gary Moskowitz with Adrianne Bee


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Last modified May 13, 2005 by University Communications