The Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, must take the blame and responsibility for the crime situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Dr. Gonsalves has failed to send a strong message to the criminals. His attempt to address the escalating crime in the country has once again demonstrated that he is out of touch with the people.
Forty-one (41) homicides have been recorded for the year so far. What is even more disturbing is that a significant percentage of these homicides remain unsolved as the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force seems unequipped to come to grips with this crisis.
In twenty- two (22) years, the Minister of National security and successive Commissioners of Police have failed to present to the nation a credible and comprehensive plan to deal with spiralling crime. A new Commissioner of Police has now taken office, we believe that he should be an independent-minded person, must command respect of all officers, must have good record as a crime-fighter and must be a good communicator, especially with the public. He should also be willing and able to engage the public on important matters and to keep the public updated of the status of high-profile investigations.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) also repeats its demand for the Prime Minister to relinquish his responsibility as Minister of National Security and appoint someone who can focus on the role more fully. The time has come to appoint someone who has the time and expertise to do the job. Dr Gonsalves has failed miserably as Minister of National Security. Under an NDP Government, Major St. Clair Leacock will be appointed as Minister of National Security and he will get things under control.
The Way Forward
President of the NDP, Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday, has outlined the following measures:
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.
Further, 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. There continues to be an outcry in our country about the ineffectiveness of our criminal Justice system that too often fails to impose appropriate penalties to deter offenders. Creating an effective and well-resourced criminal justice system involves the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the courts (i.e., magistrates and judges) and the prison system. It is vital that these components are appropriately equipped and that they function professionally and independently.
It also involves (i) reviewing our criminal laws and revising them to provide greater sentencing options for magistrates and judges; (ii) introducing measures that would improve access to justice; (iii) increasing the number of magistrates; (iv) expanding the High Court and improving its facilities; and (v) upgrading forensic laboratory services to expedite investigation and prosecution of offences and thereby eliminate the backlog of criminal cases. The system must also provide support for victims of crimes such as rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence to help them recover and be able to resume their lives as best they can.
Further, 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. Focusing on rehabilitation is not coddling criminals (as some might say). On the contrary, it is effective crime fighting that protects all of us. Rehabilitation has been proven to work and is cost-effective. We should also re-introduce the Police Cadet Service to provide young people with an avenue for entering the Police Service.
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. 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.