Crime Rising Despite Fulfilled Pledges

In its 2007 manifesto, the Free National Movement (FNM) made nine promises in a bid to “reduce crime and better protect Bahamian families”.

Even though it kept most of those promises and is working to fulfill the remaining ones, nearly five years have passed and the government is no closer to reducing crime than it was when it came to office in May 2007.

In fact, some observers say the government has a long way to go to see any reductions in the high level of violent crimes in The Bahamas.

Consecutive governments have grappled with the issue of crime. However, over the last five years, crime has gotten considerably worse — particularly violent crime.

The country recorded four murder records in the past five years. In 2011, 127 murders were recorded. When the FNM took office in mid-2007 violent crime was already on the rise. That year, 78 murders were recorded — 17 more than in 2006. Other categories of crime are also up, including armed robberies, assaults and rapes.

Crime was one of the issues the FNM used on the campaign trail in the months leading up to the 2007 general election to point to the Christie administration’s failures in government.

In its Manifesto 2007, the FNM promised to: Expand the community policing program; develop school curricula with healthy lifestyle initiatives and mentoring programs to sensitize our children to the importance of making good choices and avoiding violence as a means of conflict resolution; implement programs designed to tackle social problems of addictions, domestic violence and recidivism; and promote non-violent resolution of conflict.

The FNM also promised to ensure that all residential streets are named and have street signs; ensure that all buildings are numbered; ensure that street lighting is maintained; assist home owners and businesses to help prevent crime by reducing import duties on security equipment components and supplies.

And finally, the FNM promised to regularly review police requirements in all communities to ensure that the number of officers assigned is in accordance with the needs of the community.

Promises kept

When the government took office, one of the first things it did was to expand the community policing program.

The Christie administration focused on its Urban Renewal program. However, the Ingraham administration believed that community policing would be more effective.

That continues to be a major thrust of the police force.

The improvement of community safety and community policing is one of the key components of the commissioner’s 2012 policing plan.

Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said, “Our experiences over the past two years have convinced us that community involvement and mobilization is critical to improving community safety.

“We therefore note the need for partnerships at all levels of the community so that the common goal of keeping our communities safe is a priority for every citizen and resident of the country.”

Additionally, the National Crime Prevention Office was established in February 2010.

As it relates to the development of school curricula to promote healthy living and the peaceful resolutions to problems, Education Minister Desmond Bannister said such initiatives have been introduced over the past four years.

While it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of such efforts, Bannister said efforts to keep Bahamian students on the right path have been of paramount importance to the FNM government.

“We live up to our promises unlike those other people,” he said yesterday.

One thing the government has been able to gauge is the recidivism rate.

According to a prison report released in November 2010, the recidivism rate had lowered to 19 percent.

Seven years ago, recidivism rates were as high as 42 percent, according to authorities.

The Bahamas is working with the North Carolina Department of Corrections to implement a 12-week program that has helped the American state decrease its recidivism rate to seven percent.

It is hoped the program will help The Bahamas do the same. The program, called ‘Project Re-entry’, will be run by the not-for-profit group L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Esteem, Ability, Discipline) Institute and is designed to help ex-convicts reintegrate into society.

Additionally, National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said programs such as the Police Force’s Peer Leadership Programme and Her Majesty’s Prison community based initiatives such as Partners Against Crime (PAC) and Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), which have all been launched in the past five years, help to reinforce the “moral and ethical values of our young people and can dissuade them from entering a life of crime”.

However, it is also difficult to measure the effectiveness of those initiatives.

As it relates to the street naming and house numbering exercise, an official from the Ministry of Public Works confirmed that the process is still ongoing.

In January, Minister of Public Works and Transport Neko Grant explained that the objective of the exercise is to “take remedial action based on recently completed field surveys that identified deficiencies to numbering systems where buildings had either not yet been numbered or were wrongly numbered in the past.”

An official numbering system has been implemented north to south or east to west with even numbers on the right side of the street and odd numbers on the left side of the street. The street naming exercise will continue concurrently.

The exercise has been separated in four phases. The initiative is about halfway complete, the Ministry of Public Works official said.

In regards to the maintenance of street lights, the ministry has had some trouble consistently maintaining the lights around New Providence. However, in recent times, high voltage lights have been strategically placed in high-risk areas. Brighter lights have also been installed in the downtown area, which has also become an area of concern.

In regards to the FNM’s eighth Manifesto promise on crime, the House of Assembly approved a Revenue Act Order in mid-2011, which among other things eliminated customs duty on surveillance equipment for homeowners and business owners.

During debate on the 2011/2012 budget, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Hubert Ingraham advised that the order removes “customs duty on all surveillance cameras and their apparatus, with a view to assisting businesses and helping us with law enforcement and crime prevention”.

In addition to fulfilling its promise to cut taxes on security equipment, the government also increased the budget of the Royal Bahamas Police Force to enable the hiring of additional officers.

Police force

Commissioner Greenslade said the force continues to recruit police officers and deploy them to frontline policing upon graduation.

“This will be done in concert with continual assessment of the establishment and strength of the force,” he said in his policing plan.

Greenslade said efforts have also been made to increase the number of officers assigned to investigations in various specialist areas of the force who are required to deal with crimes such as murders, grievous harm, shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, sexual offenses, business and technology crimes and property crimes.

While in office, members of both the FNM and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) said crime is not a political issue, but in Opposition they have blamed each other for failing to adequately address the problem.

In his contribution to the budget debate last June, Minister Turnquest acknowledged that there has been much talk about what the government is doing about crime. He said the government has a focused and holistic approach to crime including crime fighting initiatives, initiatives in the criminal justice system and social and educational initiatives.

“I liken our fight against crime to our fight against HIV and AIDS,” he said.

“We have seen some successes in interdicting substantial quantities of illicit drugs and firearms just as we have seen success in curtailing mother-to-children transmission of the HIV virus.

“But both our fight against crime and our fight against HIV and AIDS are long uphill battles that have many more wars to be won. They require the concerted and coordinated efforts of all sectors of the society and we must not allow the enormity of the task to overwhelm us or the unconstructive remarks of some to dissuade us.”

Source: The Nassau Guardian