Canadian leads gang crackdown in Trinidad and Tobago

A former Alberta police officer who is now the police commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago has overseen the arrest of hundreds as the island nation declares a state of emergency to crack down on gang violence.

Former Edmonton police officer running country's police force in state of emergency

A coast guard officer mans a turret-mounted gun while on board a vessel during a patrol in the Gulf of Paria in Trinidad and Tobago. (Reuters)

A former Alberta police officer who is now the police commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago has overseen the arrest of hundreds as the island nation declared a state of emergency to crack down on gang violence that has killed dozens in recent months.

Dwayne Gibbs, a former Edmonton Police Services superintendent who took the commissioner job a year ago in the southern Caribbean nation, has had to deal with imposing sweeping curfews in certain areas of the country (11 p.m. to 4 a.m.) as it takes on drug gangs and other criminals.

Gibbs's second in command is Jack Ewatski, the former chief of police in Winnipeg.

Dwayne Gibbs has been commissioner of police in Trinidad and Tobago since last summer. (Trinidad and Tobago Police Services)

Local media have reported that since the state of emergency was declared Aug. 25, more than 2,000 people have been arrested. The state of emergency was extended to a number of new areas recently and is expected to continue until at least November.

Both the military and police are taking part in the assault against criminals in the country of 1.2 million.

CBC News requested an interview with Gibbs, but his office responded that due to the state of emergency the police commissioner is working extra hours and may not be available until November.

Who is Dwayne Gibbs?

  • Current police commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Enlisted with Edmonton Police Services in 1978 and moved to become superintendent, head of human resources.
  • Master's degree (criminal justice administration) and a doctorate in the philosophy of management, according to the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police.
  • First director of Criminal Intelligence Service Alberta.

The website for the Trinidad and Tobago police service describes Gibbs this way: "He's the face of change for the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service; a man who wants to do the best job he possibly can, for the citizenry he serves; an accessible man, his heart is with families and communities. He believes in good, honest police work and is committed to the eradication of crime in all its forms."

Trinidad and Tobago is described by the CIA as the "transshipment point for South American drugs destined for the U.S. and Europe" and as a producer of cannabis. The last state of emergency to be declared in the country was in 1990, when an extremist group attempted a coup.

Seventeen people were killed in just two weeks at one point this year. According to the police service's website, murders have trended down in the past few years but remain high for the size of the population.

So far this year, up until July, there have been 274 reported killings. In 2010, there were 472 slayings and in 2009 the number stood at 642.

The police force is also focusing on getting guns out of the hands of heavily armed gangs and has made a number of large seizures in recent weeks, as it makes forays into dangerous neighbourhoods. The state of emergency even extends into the ocean, as officials hope to stop import of illegal items into the country by the gangs.

Gibbs has faced criticism from the opposition party in the country, which said he brought little to the table except the state of emergency, reported the Trinidad Express newspaper.

The paper quoted Gibbs as responding, "This isn't about my performance. This is about what the nation needs in dealing with the crime issues and the criminals and certainly that is what they are debating in parliament."