(Excerpts of the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday’s, Press Statement)
“Crime and violence are out of hand in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. If there were any doubt, the terrible carnage in Kingstown on Wednesday (night) 20th July 2023, got rid of that. We are just past the middle of the year and have recorded thirty-five (35) killings in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Most have been by gunshot.
As this rate, St. Vincent and the Grenadines will break the record for killings in one year i.e., forty-two (42) that was set last year and will have at this rate over 50 homicides this year. That is simply unacceptable. The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are suffering because of crime and violence. They are frightened and have retreated into their homes. People need to believe that they can change things. They need to feel empowered. This can only come from being together and working together.
Several weeks ago, the Prime Minister said the government was working on a plan. But still none as yet. As Leader of the Opposition, I am calling on our people to come together for a time of prayer for our nation. A national vigil. We need this very badly. We need each other very badly.
I am calling on the churches, civil society leaders including the trade union leaders, business leaders, men and women of decency and courage to come together. I invite the government including the Prime Minister/Minister of National Security to join us in the rally. I invite the police, including the Commissioner of Police to be part of the rally. Let us all come and pray together for Peace and Healing in our land. The churches and religious leaders should take the lead.
This is not a time for division and rancour; it is a time for healing and hope. It is a time to appeal to our better natures, even in those committing the crimes. And I speak here not only of murders and other violent crimes, but also of the widespread stealing from farmers their crops and animals; of home break-ins, of yacht break-ins; of sexual assaults; of domestic violence. All are way out of bounds in this country.
This is a time for creating security and peace, so that we can build a prosperous country by the grace of God, where all of us have a place in that country and a share in that prosperity. This requires all of us working together on realistic plans and practical solutions to this serious problem of violent crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is time for there to be a separate Minister of National Security, not the Prime Minister to be charged with focusing on the problem. Also, the present commissioner of police has overseen a time of increasing gun violence and killings in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He may have done his best to address the problem but that has not been good enough to improve the situation. So, the time has come to have a new commissioner of police, who is better suited to meet the challenge at hand. This move would signal a new seriousness to tackle the problem and give hope to our people that relief is on the way. More of the same cannot accomplish that.”
Dr. Godwin Friday outlined the following: We must focus on Crime Prevention. Remember, an ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure. We should therefore invest heavily upfront, on crime prevention. In this regard, the programmes outlined in the NDP’s Spiritual and Social Redemption Charter should be implemented. The Charter promotes positive community-oriented programs that would steer vulnerable young people away from crime towards socially positive behaviour.
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. They and their families are members of society and like the rest of us are equally vulnerable to crime and violence.
The police cannot solve crimes by themselves. They need the community to provide information during investigations and to be witnesses in criminal cases. We can promote this by implementing and pursuing community policing. With specific training in community policing, the police would engage in trust-building activities in communities. For example, regular meetings between the police and community members should be introduced so that they would work together to prevent and solve crimes. The police must see their mission as serving and protecting people and be keen to embrace the community in so doing. We must also increase the presence and visibility of police in our streets and communities, not in a hostile manner but to assure people that they are there to protect them.
We need a well-resourced and well-equipped criminal justice system. Which will involve reviewing our criminal laws and revising them to provide greater sentencing options for magistrates and judges; introducing measures that would improve access to justice; increasing the number of magistrates; expanding the High Court and improving its facilities; and upgrading forensic laboratory services to expedite investigation and prosecution of offences and thereby eliminate the backlog of criminal cases.
We must promote rehabilitation of offenders. Fighting crime is not only about punishing offenders; it must also involve rehabilitation. Offenders should be provided with programs that would help to keep them from reoffending and becoming a perpetual menace to society. In this regard, we should establish a Young Persons Rehabilitation Centre for non-violent young offenders. This will prevent many young offenders from becoming hardened criminals, lost to a life of crime. We can effectively reduce crime and make our communities safe again.