We note, for example, that unemployment is extremely high. In June last year, the World Bank reported that our youth unemployment is a staggering 41% of persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This rate exceeds our neighbours in St. Lucia (38.7%), Barbados (30.6%) and Trinidad & Tobago (12.7%) and far exceeds the average for Caribbean small states of just over 25%.
We further note that poverty has gotten worse. As governments before had done, the present government commissioned an assessment of poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines The report of that study, for the period 2008-2018, has still not been released by the government. But we obtained the report and made it public. The damning evidence was that poverty in this country has gotten worse over that period of the ULP government, moving from 30.2% of the population in 2008 to over 36% in 2018. In some communities, the situation worsened dramatically.
The Better Way
We must restore trust and confidence in the police and the criminal justice system. Trust in the system now is shaken and broken. Political connections should not shield anyone involved in a shooting, theft, domestic violence or other crimes from proper investigation and prosecution. Justice must be equal for all. This will help everyone and will help the police in their work and their lives.
Therefore, we must professionalize and modernize the police service. To achieve the best outcomes in crime fighting, the best officers must be recognized, supported, and rewarded. This includes reviewing remuneration and promotion practices for the police, including the Auxiliary Police, and ensuring that they are done, not as political favours, but on merit. Fairness is key to success.
There must also be specialization of service where necessary. For example, a separate Fire Service with substations in various parts of the country should be established. This will create career opportunities for officers and improve firefighting.
Another example of specialization required is in combatting tourism-related crimes that are so damaging to our economy. A special service to investigate and prosecute such crimes, including against yacht visitors, is urgently needed because they require a quick response and measures to keep victims properly informed about their cases even after they leave our shores.
Praedial larceny is another area that requires special attention. Agriculture is critical to our economy. But, the stealing of farmers’ crops and animals is out of control and is destroying agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods. There can be no tolerance for such crimes for though they don’t make headlines, they hurt farmers badly and do terrible damage to our economy. Combating praedial larceny requires more than just rural constables; it requires a comprehensive approach that involves tracking agricultural commodities and punishing offenders who are detected, including those who aid and abet thieves by buying the goods from them at cut rate
prices. The upholder as well as the thief must be held accountable and we must be serious about that.
Further, the Auxiliary Police Force plays a pivotal role in assisting the regular police in their day-to-day duties and in providing security for ordinary people, especially our children at school. We salute you for what you do. But we know that even after all your hard work, there is little or no benefits for you and this causes low morale. We believe that all Auxiliaries, i.e., Traffic Wardens, Tourist Police, and Rural constables should be pensionable. That is fair and just. There must also be opportunities for training and promotion. Such measures would demonstrate respect for those workers and improve their morale and performance.
Domestic violence and sexual offences against women and girls are a plague in our country. One case is one too many; the current widespread nature of the problem is a national disgrace. It must be addressed urgently and seriously. These types of offences require sensitivity and specialized training to investigate and prosecute effectively. A Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Unit in the Police Service staffed by specially trained officers and counsellors is required for success in combatting such crimes. Also, wherever possible prosecution must be pursued, even when the victims do not wish to proceed.
The mission of the police is to serve and protect. But they can only do so when they stay within the scope of the law. Acting in the name of the law does not give police licence to abuse crime suspects or other people. To stamp out such abuse, a Civilian Complaint Commission should be established to receive complaints from civilians and also from fellow officers against police misconduct. This process will reduce police abuse. It will also promote better relations between police and the people and make policing more effective.
Finally, it is no longer enough for us to simply hope that things will improve with the passage of time or that the criminals will come to their senses and behave better. We must have a plan that will reduce crime and make us safe again. We know that rising crime is not a problem that will be solved overnight and that there is no single all-encompassing solution. Some measures can be implemented immediately with great effect (e.g., coastguard patrols to end yacht break-ins). Others must start now and take effect over time.
It should be clear that combatting crime is not just for the police; it is everybody’s business. It requires us to work together at all levels to succeed. It requires hard work. We can’t just throw up our hands in resignation as the government has done.
We can effectively reduce crime and make our communities safe again. There is no doubt that we can do better. Indeed, with the problem of crime and violence, we have no choice: we must do better. And with effective, proactive leadership, we will.