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Catch me if you can!

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by Marlon Mills 08.FEB.08

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is playing a dangerous game of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with the ongoing crime situation in the country. Each time another serious offence takes place that can have negative implications for the country, or some ‘important’ person in our society, we seem to think that sweeping it under the carpet is the correct way to go. Not so!{{more}}

A perfect example to learn from is the case involving the disappearance of Nathalie Holloway on May 29th, 2005, while on vacation in Aruba. Since the first arrest warrant was issued against Joran van der Sloot – the last person seen with Holloway prior to her disappearance – the case has taken many twists and turns. Hence it was not surprising to learn that Prosecutors in Aruba are once again reopening the case as at Feb.1st, 2008 after receiving secretly recorded tapes of van der Sloot confessing to his knowledge of the disposal of Holloway’s body at sea to crime reporter and former police officer, Peter van der Vries (ABC News – Feb.3rd,08).

These new developments are of course coming in the wake of the closure of the most recent enquiry only a few weeks ago, due to inconclusive evidence. One wonders how much influence van der Slooth’s father – a Judge in Aruba at the time the incident took place – would have had, that could have interfered with the course of the investigation and to holding those involved accountable for their actions. More so, it would be interesting to know the total cost to Aruba’s economy when this matter is finally closed; not just from the legal/judicial perspective, but also from losses in tourism revenue.

Unlike some of our regional counterparts, National Security/Police Officials here have continually denied that there is a serious problem of crime in existence for quite a number of years now. In fact, every year since 2001, National Security Officials have been informing us that crime is on the decrease. Murder is on the increase but crime is down. What a load of rubbish! Since the last horrific incident involving the two teenagers who were raped in their mother’s presence while on a holiday excursion to the La Soufriere volcano about two years ago, we haven’t heard very much about crimes committed against visitors to our shores. Hence it would not be surprising that most Vincentians are unaware of the number of crimes that have been committed against visitors on yachts since the beginning of the current tourist season – particularly in locations on the North Leeward Coast of St. Vincent – but the information is out there on the internet for the world to see. And I am talking about very serious crimes! So since there is no problem, there is no problem to fix, right?

We need to be taking an example from our regional counterparts in the handling of the crime situation in their respective Countries. For instance, St. Lucia, like us, has been experiencing an escalation in crime in recent years, including murder, sexual offences, drug related crimes and the like. Recognizing the fact that crime poses a threat to the economic mainstay of the country; that being the economic and social wellbeing of the population, St. Lucia chose to recognize publicly that there was a crime problem, and sought to address it. Like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, Government Officials in St. Lucia saw inadequacies in the security forces and has since invited ten highly trained retired British police officers on a contractual basis to assist in fighting crime; to help rid the Force of corruption and inefficiencies and to help train the local constabulary in a number of disciplines in policing. According to Home Affairs Minister, Calixte George, this decision was required to fight against “endemic diseases” such as corruption within the country’s law-enforcement ranks. He further stated that “those endemic diseases relate not only to corruption, but also to lack of commitment, lack of supervision, lack of foresight, and no initiative” (Int. Herald Tribune, Nov. 12, 06).

Although the battle against crime continues to be long and hard, St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Allen Chastenet, is adamant that ‘it was a wrong policy to remain quiet about criminal acts against visitors’. Speaking out against a recent robbery against six visitors at St. Lucia’s West Coast district of Soufriere, Chastenet pointed out that ‘the strides being made to develop St. Lucia’s Tourism Product can be wiped away if such brutal acts are allowed to continue’ (The Voice – Jan. 29, 08).

Trinidad and Tobago has also recruited 39 British police officers to help train the local forces (UK Sunday Times – Feb 1st, 2008). According to retired Army Brig. Carl Alfonso, a T & T chief of defense staff said he believes ‘the British Officers advanced technological-investigative and intelligence gathering methods will benefit the local force’ (Jamaica Observer – Aug. 11, 2006). Jamaica, too, has seen it necessary to contract a number of British officers, including Mark Shields, a former Superintendent with London’s Metropolitan Police, who is now serving as Jamaica’s Assistant Commissioner of Police.

For the most part, I don’t believe there is too much reason to question the Crime Statistics that are recorded by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force. I do, however, have reason to believe that the crime situation is far greater than the official records will have us believe. There could also be an issue with the guidelines being used by National Security Officials in their determination as to what should be reported as a crime. Whatever the circumstances, there is a distinct possibility that more than 50 percent of crimes committed are not reported to the police for various reasons, including the fear of victimization, fear of publicity, particularly in the case of sexual offences and lack of public confidence in the police. And that is not to say that we lack quality personnel within the ranks of the Police Force.

The fact of the matter is that our approach to addressing the crime situation is most inadequate and ineffective, and denial is not an option that should be entertained. In the first instance, we need to fully understand the gravity of the crime situation before we can address it. In order to achieve this, an official Crime Victim Survey must be conducted in every community throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines to measure the level of crime and the types of crime that exists in each area. In addition to this, an investigation into police services to identify the level of inadequacies and inefficiencies, including administrative structures and operational functions, within each district.

There is also a need to recognize the fact that crime is not a problem that can be controlled simply by policing. It calls for education at the national level with emphasis on the causal relationship between crime, economic and social conditions, and drug trafficking. Strategies will need to be developed to prevent crimes based on the findings in criminality and attributes of each respective community. This effort must encourage the full participation of all stakeholders, in conjunction with the relative authorities at all levels.

Crime prevention is no easy task, but it must be achieved if St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to maintain a stable and sustainable environment. The effects of crime can have far reaching negative consequences on the socio-economic development of the country, if effective corrective measures are not put in place soon. Not only does it affect the quality of life and wellbeing of the population, but it will have a stifling effect on the social and economic growth of the country.

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