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We Are Fighting Crime! - June 28, 2004

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We Are Fighting Crime!

Hello St. Lucia,

It has been a very wet weekend and I hope the weather has not been too unkind to you.

Last week, I promised to respond to a question from a listener to this programme. The listener is Trevor Wilness, an employee of Cable & Wireless. Incidentally, Trevor granted me permission to mention his name today.

Trevor was concerned about the increasing reports of dangerous crimes, which, in his view, indicated that probably “St. Lucia is not safe anymore.” He said the police were doing a terrible job and they need to be held accountable. But, he added, the same police officers who should be held accountable were also being seen driving without seat belts and breaking traffic lights. Trevor wanted to know how we expected these same police officers to fight crime if they do not have regard for the laws which they are required to enforce. He put this question to me: What is the Government doing about crime?

This is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked. I have answered on many occasions – whether in Parliament or constituency meetings, or overseas. Trevor’s question is helpful because it provides an opportunity to summarize, for the benefit of our listeners, the efforts of the Government to fight crime.

Crime in the Caribbean

Unquestionably, there is a very serious crime wave sweeping the region. In Jamaica, over 500 people have been killed for the year so far; in Trinidad & Tobago, over 100 have died at the hands of criminals; and in Guyana we hear reports of deadly crime of unimaginable proportions. In browsing Caribbean newspapers on the Net over the weekend, three headlines from the Antigua Sun caught my attention:
• June 25: Daily Break-ins Alarm Villagers
• June 25: Police Respond to Masked Man Alert
• June 25: Robbers Hold Up BJ’s Supermarket

I mention those statistics, not to seek refuge or to deny that we do have a serious crime problem, but to point out that the entire region has a crime problem. Indeed, the situation confronting the region is serious. But let us go to the heart of the issue.

Harsh Realities…

Each time there’s a major crime, anxiety deepens and the issue comes to the forefront. Given recent developments – such as the abduction of the six-year-old girl from her school and the burning of a police vehicle at Wilton’s Yard last week – such anxiety is fully understandable.

Measures to Protect our Citizens…

Over the past eight years, Government has, on several occasions, introduced measures to protect our citizens, our children and our communities. Let me identify the initiatives.

Review of the Police Force

The Government once always accepted that if the Police is to confront crime and defeat criminals, the police force must be modernized. A team of British experts was invited to review the Police Force. A reform process is under way, based on the recommendations of the British team. A new Act to govern the structure and operations of the force will soon be established. It will introduce new procedures and criteria for promotion and hopefully it will allow for the best to emerge at the top.

In addition to this, the Government has invited members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP, to train our police officers in the handling of evidence and scenes of crime. Their recommendations have led to changes in the approach to crime detection and prosecution.

Legislative Reforms

Government has accepted that we need to modernize the legislation governing crime. New and tough sentences have been introduced for the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

A new Evidence Act has also been enacted to allow for the admissibility of evidence such as DNA. Government has also enacted a modern and revolutionary Criminal Code containing 1,264 provisions.

New legislation has also been enacted to deal with money laundering and its associated evils.


The Government has heard the allegations about police abuse and brutality. To that end, the Government has enacted a Police Complaints Act. The Act makes provision for a Police Complaints Commission to hear and determine complaints against any police officer. The commission will be operationalised in the next few weeks. Citizens will therefore have an opportunity to seek redress against complaints of police abuse and negligence.

Beach Rangers

In a bid to reduce crime on our beaches, the Government introduced a new Unit, the Beach Rangers. The Rangers patrol our beaches and help to protect both citizens and visitors. They provide a vital link to our Police. Since their introduction, there has been a noticeable reduction in harassment of tourists and locals on our beaches.

Establishment of the Rapid Response Unit

Again, in our effort to strengthen the police response, particularly in our tourism communities, the Government introduced Rapid Response Units, manned by former police officers and special constables. The units exist in Gros Islet, Castries and Vieux Fort. New vehicles were also provided for these units.

Recent Measures…

But let me also remind you of what I said just over two months ago during my Budget Address.

Establishment of a Forensic Unit

I indicated that in an effort to improve the ability of our Police Prosecutors to successfully present cases before the courts, we would take steps to improve the availability of forensic evidence. In that regard, I said we would establish a Forensic Unit and a Forensic Laboratory. We have already identified the location for this lab and plans are underway to refurbish the building.

Training of New Police Officers

I also spoke in the last Budget Address about what we had done to address the training and procurement needs of the police force. In this regard, I recalled that we had recruited over 150 new police officers between 1999 and 2001, at a cost of $3.6 million. In addition, I announced that government will be moving to employ an additional 60 police officers this year, and will establish an SSU branch in the south of the island.

New and Refurbished Police Stations

In order to improve conditions of work of police officers and strengthen morale, the Government has moved to refurbish and construct new police stations. New police stations have been constructed at Anse la Raye, Marchand and Vieux Fort. In addition, five more police stations have been refurbished in Gros-Islet, Marigot, Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul and Laborie. Construction will begin on three more new stations this year in Dennery, the Mabouya Valleys and Micoud.

Procurement of Specialized Equipment

I indicated just six weeks ago in my last Budget Address that the government had allocated over $800,000 for the procurement of specialized equipment such as stun guns to assist the police in apprehending criminals; breathalysers to measure the alcohol level of persons suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Duty Free for Security Equipment

I also announced that the government would reintroduce the duty free regime on security equipment and encouraged businesses to invest in their own security. This particular concession was also extended to include households.

Procurement of Vehicles

A common complaint by police officers is that they have insufficient vehicles and so, cannot respond to crimes. In 1998-99, government purchased 24 new motor cycles and 21 new motor vehicles at a cost of over two million dollars. Two years ago, the Government of South Korea donated some sixteen new vehicles, all to the Police Force. Many of these vehicles will soon require replacement.

A Holistic Approach

Crime has to be fought on all fronts. Fighting crime has to be beyond legislation, new police officers and vehicles. It has to go to the heart of the justice system. That is why we built a new prison to strengthen the security of our people and our nation, and to rehabilitate the criminals among us. The Bordelais Correctional Facility exists to make this country safer from our criminals.

I indicated that Government would do away with the periodic Assizes and a Criminal Division of the High Court would be established. This will provide for year-round hearing of cases. The result would be that persons accused of crimes will be brought to trial more regularly -- and more speedily. The Court is now in operation, initially as a pilot project.

National Crime Commission

Finally in 2003, the government created a National Crime Commission. This Commission seeks, among other responsibilities, to harness concerns and suggestions for preventing and controlling crimes and to assist the police in the development and implementation of a nationwide community policing programme.

The Police Needs Your Help – And Your Trust!

All that having been said, I wish to repeat what I’ve always said: The police cannot do it alone. All the money and equipment, the new vehicles, the new police stations, the Forensic Lab, the increased number of police officers and the other measures will come to naught if there isn’t a consistent, coordinated and purposeful strategy backed by popular support. The police need to do their part and so do we as citizens. We can always find reasons to criticize the Force, but we must also find the reasons to have a little more trust and confidence in the police.

Like everywhere else, there are rotten cops in our Force. They have to be rooted out. But please don’t allow the dirty deeds of a very few be the yardstick by which we measure the entire Police Force. The vast majority of police officers are decent and well-intentioned.

I can assure you, Trevor, that I am as concerned as you are about the state of crime in our country today. That is why the Government has taken the measures I outlined earlier, all in an effort to take a large bite out of crime.

The benefits of all these measures I have outlined will not come easy or early. They will take time.

I assure you and other listeners, however, that the spectacular headlines notwithstanding, a simple analysis of the crime figures will indicate that the police are in fact continuing to improve in the number of arrests, charges and convictions for most crimes. That may not be enough to convince many of us, but I can assure every St. Lucian that this Government will continue to dedicate the resources necessary to strengthen our capacity to handle the crime situation. All I ask is that all police officers try to do their job the best they can – and that you, as sons and daughters and citizens of St. Lucia, do your best to give them the trust, confidence and support they will need to be more successful in tackling crime and easing our anxieties. But just remember: effectively tackling crime – whether sophisticated or simply brutal -- is not an overnight job. It takes time and resources, but most of all it requires patience. The fact is, Trevor, the police need your help and that of other citizens. Will you help?

Just before I leave you, let me remind you that Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica will be our official guest for two days this week. Let us welcome him with open arms and generosity of spirit. Traffic will be disrupted, so please be understanding and patient.

Until next Monday, do have a nice day -- and give the police your support, as of this week!



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