Early last week in one of our Editorials we commented on one aspect of the approach of the police in their response to the cash-for-gold crisis that the country is experiencing and in the process disagreed with a comment from the force’s Public Relations Department.
That related specifically to the “advice” of that department to members of the public to stop wearing jewellery until the upsurge in robberies has been brought under control. We understand the “logic” that would have been employed by the force in advancing this suggestion, but we disagreed — respectfully.
Towards the end of the week Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin held a press conference at which he brought the country up to date on the state of affairs on the crime wave that is being fuelled by the cash-for-gold enterprises. We could not have imagined that the situation was as bad as the commissioner outline.
According to the police chief, in the first two months of the year almost a million dollars worth of gold jewellery had been stolen from individuals and residences. That’s a staggering sum, and if we accept that except for murder, reported crime is invariably less than the actual, one would have to conclude that perhaps the “true” figure is more than a million dollars.
We just hope that the force’s tabulation takes into consideration something they have long recognised and have had reason to speak about on several occasions, especially when it relates to tourists — that jewellery values are often inflated, sometimes significantly, for insurance purposes.
But that, at this state, is neither critical to our point nor particularly germane to getting control of the situation that is clearly causing great worry to a significant number of Barbadians. We accept that the force, and by extension the country, has a major challenge and that every Barbadian has a duty to play his or her part to bring this situation under control. We pledge to do our part, and restate that the two-year-old offer of space on a weekly basis to assist in publicising their programmes is still on the table.
However, we do not believe the answer to the current crisis will be found in telling persons not to wear jewellery. If an individual, because of his acute awareness of his circumstances, determines that it is in his best interest not to display his jewellery then that fine, but a general warning to Barbadians to put down their gold sounds almost as though we are saying the thieves have won.
We don’t believe that is what the police chief meant when he reiterated the original advice from his public relations department, but it was nevertheless the message he sent.
Then he chose to support/compound it with an analogy: His don’t-wear-gold advice was no different from the advice he would give to Barbadians to stay away from a particular area if it presented a problem, until they got it under control.
The problem with such hand-picked analogies is that they can be taken to a most illogical conclusion. Like: Let’s advise tourists not to come here until we get crime against them to the level with which we are comfortable. Or: We would like all law abiding residents of “X” district to sleep somewhere else until we can get a handle on crime there.
We are not lawmen and women in the newsroom at Barbados TODAY, but we are Barbadians with some thinking capacity and are not in the least bit comfortable with the police’s stated approach. Perhaps they are doing more than they are saying, but we can only draw from what they say and what we see them doing.
We would prefer to see the re-employment of some old time policing practices and tactics; we would like to see an approach that says the Royal Barbados Police Force still appreciates the value of cultivating good relations with law abiding citizens as a means of garnering critical crime prevention and detection information; we would welcome conduct that says lawmen understand that everyone with a certain hairstyle or style of dress is not criminally intentioned. And God knows we would love to see the revival of the apparently extinct practice of police community patrols.
The same way persons with experience and substantial social/community capital in all spheres of life, whether they are editors, managers, air traffic control supervisors, etc, are employed in challenging situations or to ensure the effective closure of a make-or-break deal, we believe Barbadians would take much more comfort if they knew that some of the men and women of the upper ranks of the force with solid reputations in investigations had been temporarily redeployed on the frontline of this battle.
After all, you can’t report the theft of almost $1 million in gold jewellery, in many instances with violence, in the space of two months, tell the country it is so bad they should leave their gold at home, and not tell us the situation is not grave enough for major redeployment of proven resources.
That, Mr. Commissioner, would assure Barbadians, and perhaps the tourists as well, that the Royal Barbados Police Force has not rolled over and is playing dead.