School Safety and Security in Trinidad – Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Direct presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

National conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Director Michael Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago last week and wrote this blog while on the road. We are posting it this week since we recently did a web redesign and had a delay in making new posts.

I have had a wonderful experience the past few days working in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  I had the honor to serve as the keynote speaker for the first national conference on school safety and security held in Trinidad – Tobago today.  The Ministry of Education and the CORE Foundation were able to arrange for a Trinidad Police Officer assigned to my security detail and the Director of the CORE Foundation to accompany me for site visits of two area high schools that have had recent security incidents.  These incidents included a double homicide where two victims were killed as they left their high school at the end of the school day.  I had been provided with quite a few news articles as background information prior to my arrival.  As we have seen in many cases in the U.S., the news articles turned out to be alarmist and highly inaccurate.  Trinidad – Tobago has a national homicide rate of 28 victims per 100,000 people in contrast to the U.S. rate of only 3.2 per 100,000 and has intensive gang activity.  In large cities like Port of Spain, it is not uncommon to see police officers patrolling in groups of three while carrying fully automatic tactical rifles and sub-machine guns.  At the same time, no one I have spoken to during this trip could provide any examples of anyone being murdered on school property.  As with many cases in England, Vietnam, South Africa and a number of countries where schools are typically completely fenced in, students have been murdered as they left the front gate of their schools at the end of the school day.

While I am not trying to imply that these types of murders are anything but tragic, it is almost astounding to me that to-date at least, no student or intruder has murdered anyone on a K12 campus property.  While it is likely that these types of incident will occur in Trinidad in the future, it is noteworthy that there have not been a number of such incidents already.   As with alarmist media and social media descriptions in the U.S., media accounts in Trinidad paint a picture of absolute chaos in K12 schools.  While schools in Trinidad – Tobago, like their counterparts in many other countries, have their share of violence, bullying, vandalism and other social ills, the media accounts appear to be just as inaccurate and inflammatory as those in the U.S. press.

There are striking differences in the way schools in Trinidad operate in relation to their U.S. counterparts.  For example, teachers rotate to different classrooms in contrast to the U.S. where students move between locations during passing times.  We have observed this practice in other countries such as Vietnam.  While U.S. school officials face challenges with student supervision during passing times, students in classrooms in Trinidad – Tobago are often left unattended by an adult as teachers rotate between their rooms.  This has resulted in some upsetting portable phone videos of students being assaulted in their classrooms by other students.  We recently observed a similarly troubling video where a child was severely beaten in a Vietnamese school.  Of course, there have also been many similarly troubling videos of students being attacked in U.S. and British schools.  As we have said many times, school safety challenges occur in every country our analysts have visited.

The CORE Foundation, the Ministry of Education and other sponsoring organizations did a superb job of planning for the event.  They also arranged for site visits to schools so I could become more familiar with how schools in Trinidad – Tobago operate to help me tailor the presentation so the information would be more practical for participants.  I found that there are some excellent practices and success stories in Trinidad – Tobago.  I was deeply impressed with the other presenters who all shared very pertinent and current strategies.  I also found the many professionals I had the opportunity to interact with were caring, competent and passionate advocates for the children.  I have already been asked to present again in Trinidad – Tobago, and feel honored and blessed to be asked to return.

Safe Havens International Executive Director, Mike Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

Safe Havens International Executive Director, Mike Dorn presented at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad-Tobago

Eight Victims Stabbed in Canadian School

Knife Stock Photo

Safe Havens International Stock Photo

School Violence in Canada

The attack occurred at Dunbarton High School. Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian K12 schools have experienced significant problems with violence in recent decades. Canadian schools have experienced a number of shootings, edged weapons attacks and other acts of violence in relation to the nation’s population of approximately 36 million. With a population of 223 million people, acts of violence in U.S. schools, it is difficult to contrast American rates of school violence with countries that do not tally school homicide in the same manner as U.S. schools where school mandatory reporting of school homicide data has been in place since the late 1990’s.

School Violence Abroad

In our work in Canada, we have found that while the nation has lower per capita homicide rates overall than the United States, Canadian schools often face similar concerns relating to school violence, weapons incidents and gang activity. Safe Havens has been receiving an increasing number of requests for assistance from schools in other countries in the past two years.   Typically, our overseas clients have been concerned with school shootings, edged weapons assaults and acts of terrorism. While many Americans perceive mass casualty school attacks to be a problem unique to U.S. schools, our experience has been that school and public safety officials have been concerned about school weapons attacks in every country where we have worked.

School Violence in Trinidad

Trinidad school Violence

News headlines portray an epidemic of school violence in Trinidad. As with American media, alarmist and frightening reporting can make it difficult to determine the real extent of the problem of school violence. Safe Havens has been asked to help develop practical solutions to address school violence in Trinidad.

BUntitled CUntitled DUntitledI have the honor to present at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad this March.  The conference is being held in response to incidents of school violence in the small Caribbean nation.  In newspaper covers and television news stories provided by my client for background on the topic, I noted repeated references to an “epidemic” of school violence and headlines regarding gang activity in schools.  While the news stories detail recent school homicides, the focus of the reporting appears to center on a large number of very serious fights among groups of students as well as increasing gang activity in schools.  A number of these incidents involve groups of students who gang up and beat individual students severely.  There has been at least one similar type of attack on a school teacher.  Viral videos of these types of attacks have become increasingly more graphic, popular and apparently more frequent.

High Homicide Rate affects School Violence

With a per capita murder rate of 28.3 per hundred residents, Trinidad has been experiencing a stout
homicide rate in recent years.   Criminal gangs have often had no difficulty in obtaining semi-automatic
and even fully automatic weapons.  Special police units equipped with heavy body armor and
sub-machine guns patrol high crime areas and have had numerous gunfights with gang members.  It
should not be surprising that school violence would be an issue in schools serving these communities.
For contrast, the U.S. homicide rate typically runs between three and four victims  per hundred
thousand.

Contrast with schools in the U.S.

Most of the topics of interest to attendees parallel issues with school violence in the United States.  I will be addressing areas such as preventing school weapons assaults, effective school resource officer programs, student threat evaluation, techniques to prevent fights in schools, bullying prevention, student supervision practices, and effective emergency preparedness measures for school violence.  I have found past engagements in other countries to be an excellent learning opportunity.  Our analysts have learned valuable lessons working in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Rwanda, Bolivia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Switzerland, Vietnam, the U.K. and other countries.  I am sure this experience will be no exception.

Travel, learn and share

I look forward to my visit to Trinidad and will post another blog to share what I learn during the trip.   When I was originally invited to present for the conference, I had to decline due to a previously scheduled trip to Argentina the same week.  I was very disappointed that I would not be able to present because my schedule was in conflict.  The conference organizers were willing to move the conference date so I could present.  I am grateful for their efforts to accommodate my schedule and will do my best to make their efforts worthwhile.  I also look forward to the challenges of trying to come up with success strategies to help make schools in Trinidad safer.  Every time we have the opportunity to work in another region of the world, we learn and gain a new perspective.  I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to learn and to share a different perspective on school violence.