Friday, September 7, 2001 - Earlier this year, following the unfortunate New Year’s Eve attack on worshippers in the Castries Cathedral, crime became the talk of the town in Saint Lucia for several weeks.
Today, six months on, Saint Lucia has literally made a 360-degree turn. The hysteria is gone, the country has settled back down and, despite the occasional incident here and there, crime has virtually disappeared from the headlines. Furthermore, critics who had vociferously blamed the government for the escalation of crime, are hailing the success of government’s anti-crime offensive.
Being singled out for special praise is the Police’s new Rapid Response Unit (RRU). Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, had announced the establishment of the Gros Islet-stationed RRU in his New Year’s Address as a specific measure to boost security in the north of the island where half of the population lives and the majority of tourists stay.
“…. Since the introduction of the Unit, we haven’t had any incidents up here in the Rodney Bay area,” Berthia Parle, president of the Saint Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association (SLHTA), remarked recently in an television interview. “ I believe it is a direct result of the RRU. I think they are doing an excellent job,” she added.
Asked on the GIS programme 3-2-1 if the RRU had made a difference, one Gros Islet resident remarked: “They are patrolling every nook and cranny of Gros Islet. …When you least expect them, they are there and that is why I think they are effective.”
In the southern town of Vieux Fort where crime was causing some concern earlier this year, police are reporting a dramatic fall-off following increased patrols, raids, road blocks and other measures. “It seems that something is working,” Inspector Cyrus Faulkner of the Vieux Fort Police Station was quoted recently as saying. .
Government is waging its all-out offensive against crime on several fronts. It is reforming, re-equipping, modernizing and strengthening the police service, it has updated legislation to provide for stiffer penalties for gun-related and other serious crimes, it is mobilizing citizens to take a more active role in crime-fighting by cooperating with the police and passing on valuable intelligence. In addition, Government is building a modern prison as a national security improvement measure, it is looking at more effective approaches to rehabilitating criminals, and establishing a commission of experts to identify the root causes of crime.
“Saint Lucia will not become a country in which we are at war against everyone and life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short,” Prime Minister Anthony vowed in his New Year’s address. “Nor will this government permit criminals to undo our upward path of economic development which has made Saint Lucia one of the most pleasant and comfortable societies in which to live,” he assured the nation.
A flare-up in crime around June when an innocent passer-by was killed by a stray bullet in the heart of the city, was met with a further tightening of the screws. Instructing the police to “take back our country and our streets”, Dr. Anthony toughened up the crackdown with the introduction of several additional measures. Among them, beefed up police patrols, the creation of a special Police Task Force to keep tabs on known criminals, the deployment of the crack Special Services Unit (SSU) into known trouble-spots around the island, the establishment of additional RRUs to serve Castries, Soufriere and Vieux Fort, and a Crime Stoppers Unit offering cash rewards to citizens who provide useful information about criminal activity.
In an editorial in its August 24 issue, the weekly Saint Lucia Mirror cited “a marked decrease in criminal activity” as a result of these measures. “Before the Prime Minister’s June 28 address, we had criticized editorially the tardiness of the national response to the crime wave and had urged that measures be instituted promptly to remove the fear and concern which had gripped many of our people,” the paper said. “We believe that the measures employed by the Police Force have had a sobering effect on the entire situation, despite the little pockets of resistance that still remain.”
Meantime, persons still in possession of illegal firearms had until the end of August to hand them over to the police high command with the knowledge that they would not be prosecuted. However, now that the amnesty has expired, offenders simply will have to “face the music”, Dr. Anthony has made clear. In other words, they will have to be content with the harsh penalties under the new Firearms Act of 2001. For example, a criminal convicted of using a fire arm to commit the offenses of drug trafficking, kidnapping, robbery or rape faces no less than 20 years behind bars.
Despite their recent successes, Saint Lucian authorities face complex challenges in their ongoing battle against crime which is a growing Caribbean-wide problem. Of particular concern – not only to Saint Lucia but other Caribbean countries as well -- is the United States policy of repatriating hardened criminals to their country of birth after they have served out prison sentences in American prisons. It’s a policy which so far has introduced more than 60 criminals into Saint Lucian society. Many of them had moved to the United States as children and, as a result, have no real remaining ties with Saint Lucia, including family in some instances.
“Their presence,” said Dr. Anthony, “has introduced a new dimension and complicated the challenge to control and prevent crime.”
To mount an effective response to these challenges, Government is receiving expert international assistance to help the Police conceptualize, develop, and operationalize a modern, appropriate crime strategy for the island. The Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum is assisting with this project which, when fully operational, is expected to yield even greater results in Government’s ongoing drive to ensure that Saint Lucia remains a safe and secure place for residents and visitors.