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Prime Minister's Address on the Crime Situation - "LETS TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY AND STREETS FROM THE CRIMINALS" - June 28, 2001

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LETS TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY AND STREETS

FROM THE CRIMINALS

Address to the Nation on the Crime Situation

By Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony

Prime Minister of St. Lucia

Thursday June 28th 2001

My fellow St. Lucians,

In recent times, we have all been affected by the upsurge in crime in our country. St. Lucians in all walks of life have expressed fear, anxiety, anger and frustration with this crime wave and its erosion of our lifestyles. It is understandable that people are saying, "enough is enough" and calling on the police force to take back our country and our streets. Respect for law and order is the foundation of civilized living in any society and the loss of order begins with the incremental disrespect of simple rules such as traffic regulations. So the situation in which we find ourselves today is not an overnight event it is the cumulative expression of that disrespect that has been allowed to fester for many years.

Tonight I want to be direct and straightforward. It is now time for action. The responsibility will lie on all of our shoulders. Government will do what it has to do to ensure the safety of life and property of all law-abiding citizens; the Police will be expected to exercise their functions as the guardians of peace and order; communities must play their role in maintaining control of their neighborhoods; and individual citizens must take their place in the fight against disorder. For us to defeat the criminals, we must confront crime as a united force. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some persons and organizations want us to believe that crime surged only when the Labour Party took office, or that there were never sudden and unexplained surges in criminal activity in the past. We should not allow ourselves to be divided by those who might wish to capitalize on fear for narrow personal or political gain. Stray bullets do not seek party affiliation and criminals do not discriminate between rich and poor.

A RECORD OF INVESTMENT

I appeal to all St. Lucians, to all citizens of this country, to put aside partisan perspectives and face the simple fact that this government has invested more than any previous administration in a concerted effort to build the infrastructure of law and order and justice in St. Lucia. For the record, let me quickly outline this investment.

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A new police station has been constructed in Marchand at a cost of over 1.5 million dollars.

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New police stations will be constructed in Vieux-Fort ($6.028 million), Dennery ($1.8 million), La Ressource ($1.6 million), Micoud ($1.8 million), and Anse La Raye ($1.02 million). Earlier today, a sod-turning ceremony to signal the commencement of construction of the Anse-La-Raye Police station was held.

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Major repairs of police stations have been undertaken or are currently ongoing in every major district:
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Laborie Police Station: $748,572

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Gros-Islet Police Station: $403,265

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Choiseul Police Station: $710,730

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Canaries Police Station: $398,320

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Marigot Police Station: $538,281

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Soufriere Police Station: $296,734

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A new prison at a cost of over 40 million dollars is nearing completion.

In addition, upon assuming office 150 new recruits were added to the police force and, two years ago, the government purchased 24 new motorcycles and 21 motor vehicles for the police. The Commissioner of Police has been authorized to proceed to recruit another batch of fifty men and women for training. This will increase the number of police officers from 766 and 816. We have continued to advise all members of the police force that they must continue to deliver to justify these resources.

Government has not put any restraint on the police in the implementation of their duties. Our only requirement is that they conduct their duties within the parameters of the Constitution and the laws of this country.

Money and resources invested in the police do not automatically translate into victory against crime. But we are also certain that without that investment, our police would not have had the necessary means with which to succeed.

While it has become fashionable to cry down statistics, they are nevertheless important since they tell the true story of crime in St. Lucia. The relevant facts show our successes as well as the areas of weakness. While reported crime in some categories has increased, police success in responding to reported crimes and in apprehending and charging suspects has improved. Police statistics on serious crime show increases in the arrests for rape, stealing, robbery, housebreaking, and firearms and ammunition offences, between January and June 2001 when compared to the previous period, June to December 2000.

The comparative figures on drug-related arrests also indicate a pattern of success. In the last quarter of last year, 346 drug arrests were made, while in the first quarter of this year 434 arrests were made. The figures also reveal increases in the quantities of drugs seized between the two periods. These actions also indicate a link between drug related offences and the high incidence of violent crimes. There is no valid reason therefore for any individual or organisation to keep promoting the view that our collective efforts to fight crime lack direction, or have been in vain.

To be sure, the police force faces new and complex challenges. The unfortunate and ill-advised policy of the United States administration to return to the Caribbean, nationals who have been convicted of criminal offences in the United States have swollen the ranks of the hardened, sophisticated and experienced criminals. Over sixty of these persons have been repatriated some of whom had severed family ties and cultural links with St. Lucia. Their presence has introduced a new dimension and complicated the challenge to control and prevent crime.

CRIME FIGHTING MEASURES

I now want to outline the specific measures that government will be immediately implementing to deal decisively with the situation:

1. Take back the Streets and Restore Public Confidence

We have directed the Police to take back the streets. They will achieve this by increasing regular police patrols in major population and business areas (such as Central Castries), establishing a Task Force to target known criminals; deploying the SSU in trouble spots around the country and by generally increasing visible police presence on the streets.

The objective of this police action will be to ensure the safety and comfort of ordinary citizens and also to make life as uncomfortable as possible for all well-known and intending criminal elements.

2. Tougher Penalties for Gun Crimes

Many of the crimes that cause anger and fear are committed with firearms. I want to warn those persons who own illegal firearms that they will now face stiffer penalties when they are caught.

The newly enacted Firearms Act of 2001 increases the fine for the illegal possession of a firearm, from a maximum sum of $7,000 to not less that $15,000 and it imposes mandatory sentences of no less than seven years in prison for this offence.

For the illegal import or export of firearms we have imposed mandatory sentences of no less than 5 years for summary convictions and no less than 20 years on indictment. This contrasts with the 1995 Act, which gave maximum prison sentences of 5 and 20 years respectively for these offences.

The new Act of 2001 also provides that any person except a juvenile who uses a firearm to commit offences such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, robbery or rape shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years. The Firearms Act also places a mandatory sentence of not less than ten years upon persons convicted of using firearms to threaten police officers in the execution of their duties, and in order to intimidate public officials.

3. Incentives against Firearms

In addition to the provisions under the Act, government has agreed to offer a maximum reward of EC$1,500 to anyone who provides the police with information which results in the successful retrieval of an illegal firearm. This measure will come into effect immediately and will last for a period of six months after which it will be reviewed.

4. Bring in the weapons or Face the Music

Simultaneously with the reward for recovery of illegal firearms, we want to give a final opportunity for persons with illegal weapons to bring them in or face the music. Persons who voluntarily hand over illegal firearms to any of the following officers between June 29th and August 30th, 2001 will not be prosecuted:

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Commissioner Brian Bernard

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Deputy Commissioner Neil Parker

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Assistant Commissioner Hermangild Francis

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Assistant Commissioner Ausbert Regis

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Assistant Commissioner, Joseph Francis

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Divisional Officer of the South, Albert Fregis

5. Widen the net of Rapid Response

Fifthly, the government intends to build on the success of the Rapid Response Unit established in Gros Islet. Four new units will be established, to be led by experienced officers with impressive records of fighting crime. Two of the units will be located in Castries, the third will be dispatched to Soufriere, and the fourth to Vieux Fort. The Rapid Response Unit for Castries, Vieux-Fort and Soufriere will comprise four teams working on a three-shift system. A total of thirty-two persons will be recruited to establish the unit. Efforts will be made to ensure that these units are properly provided with communications equipment. It is expected that the units will be fully operational by August 30th 2001.

6. Twenty-Four Hours Crime Stoppers Unit

It is well known that the key to successful law enforcement is the ability to receive and process accurate information about crime. I accept that the public is yet to fully trust the police with information. The restoration of the credibility of our Police Force is a pre-requisite to effective cooperation from the public. I know that the public is ready to co-operate but they need to feel that their information will be treated in confidence and with confidence.

To that end, Government will join other countries to establish a Crime Stoppers Unit to report crime or to receive information to help with on-going investigations of criminal activity and behavior. The Crime Stoppers Unit will be in service 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. A Board of Directors comprising independent and trusted members of the public will oversee the operations of the unit, independent of the Police Force. Persons who offer information and tips will be given a reward the level of which will be determined by the Board.

THE LONG TERM STRATEGY TO FIGHT CRIME

One of the weaknesses of our Police Force has been the failure to develop a comprehensive crime strategy. I am satisfied that our police were not prepared over the years to deal with the challenges, which presently confront them. To that end, the government has decided to invite the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a leading police research and non-profit membership organization of police executives drawn from the US and other countries, to work with the police force to conceptualize, develop, and operationalize a crime strategy for Saint Lucia. The work of PERF is short term and will complement the current efforts at reform in the Royal St. Lucia Police Force and will serve to modernize the crime fighting strategy and approach of the police. I expect to meet the director of PERF, Mr. Chuck Wexler, in the course of the meetings of the Heads of Government of CARICOM in the Bahamas next week to arrange for the assignment in St. Lucia.

JOINT SESSION OF PARLIAMENT

Finally, a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives will be convened in July 2001, specifically to debate the issue of crime and to engage all political parties and interest groups in deepening the solutions that we are going to implement against this scourge. This will be an historic meeting. It is the first time that such a session will be organized to discuss a major public issue. It will give the opposition an opportunity to inform the public of its strategy to combat crime. This approach will be further enhanced with the establishment of the National Crime Commission.

CONTROLS FOR CARNIVAL

Government has realized that over the next four weeks of intense carnival activities, lots of St. Lucians and visitors alike will be on our streets in revelry enjoying the sweet sounds of steel band and calypso. I have instructed the Commissioner of Police to ensure that there are many more plain clothes and uniformed police officers at all shows and carnival activities, and to further put in place the most effective mechanisms for quick responses to protect everyone and make the celebrations enjoyable, and secure.

EACH ONE MAKES A DIFFERENCE

I also want to make a special appeal to the public to be more mindful of the ways in which we contribute to social decay. We all recognize that effective policing cannot operate in a vacuum. All citizens have a role to play in fighting crime. It is ironic that while we all continue to freely express our concern over the current situation, many of us fail to realize that we contribute to the breakdown in law and order, when we engage in minor indiscretions. Persons break the law before our eyes. Some support the law-breakers; others turn a blind eye. We are contributing to a culture of lawlessness. Too often, we ignore no parking restrictions, we park on sidewalks; we speed in school zones; we overtake in the city and other built up areas; we disregard traffic lights both as pedestrians and motorists; we violate laws against noise pollution and; we use violent and abusive language at the slightest provocation. We must never lose the will to recognize what is right from wrong. I urge you to take a little time to think about the small ways in which each one of us can improve the situation. I must also warn you that the police have been advised that they should no longer turn a blind eye to these infractions.

CONCLUSION

I want to thank those members of the public, who have so far assisted the police in this serious business of fighting crime. The successful implementation of these measures will depend on the continued involvement of all citizens of this country. As we see evidence of the heightened activity of the Police in our communities let us give them our fullest assistance. The recent successes have shown that the men and women of our police force can do the job.

Government is mindful of some of the public concerns over the appearance of crime among some members of the police force. Our recent record of investigation and disciplining of those guilty of misdemeanors is intended to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate any behavior which undermines the integrity of the police. Those whose job it is to protect and serve the public should not abuse our trust and the responsibility placed in them.

I want to end by once again urging all St. Lucians to maintain level heads and to be responsible and mature as we come together to seek solutions to this problem. I also want to warn anyone who is now engaged in criminal activity or even thinking about it, that law enforcement will be hard and uncompromising. The police will deal with you speedily and efficiently. Finally I want to encourage the police to continue to be resolute while maintaining a high level of professionalism in their work.

Fellow St. Lucians, I feel confident that with the measures I have announced, and with an intensification of police work, I can bid you a safe night, and look forward to calmer and more secure days ahead.

I thank you.

 

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