Today we look at crime in Barbados and what more can be done to wrestle it to the ground, even while acknowledging that criminal behaviour will always be with us.
The general public in any jurisdiction is the largest and potentially one of the best crime-fighting units.
In Barbados ordinary citizens out-number the functioning constabulary by perhaps around 300 to one, they cover more territory than the police and have more information than law enforcement personnel.
In a small country such as ours where breathing space and privacy are at a minimum, crime-fighting should be more easily facilitated than it frequently appears to be.
The question is: Are we pulling our weight?
We have situations where “farmers” with no land make a living from selling produce directly to householders and to some retail outlets. We have cases where “transport operators” with no legal authority commute passengers across the island every day, every year.
We have instances where “businessmen” with no businesses frequently sell clothing, liquor, cigarettes, car parts, building material and other commodities directly to consumers or through established outlets. We have drug dealers living next door who conduct their illicit trade under or above the radar on an unfettered annual basis.
We have children under 16 living in our communities who are not attending school despite living with at least one parent. We have cases [some previously exposed] of senior Government workers using state resources and equipment for protracted periods to enrich themselves. And the list goes on.
In larger countries we often hear of urban and rural criminal activity and though there is an aspect of that on the island especially as it relates to rural Barbados being the focal point for praedial larceny, livestock theft and drug landings, our size is such that monitoring country and town comes with a very thin line of demarcation.
Barbados’ land mass is so minuscule that rural is almost urban and one can probably stand on the roof of one’s home in St. John and observe activity in St. George or peep through one’s Christ Church window and view an incident in St. Michael.
So why do some criminal elements thrive on this dot?
We dare say that John Public must develop or enhance an attitude that crime-fighting is their domain and not just that of the Royal Barbados Police Force. The members of the RBPF should never find themselves having to beg for public assistance. The public should bombard them with help.
Information on anything and everything as it relates to making this island a safer, more law-abiding destination ought to be provided to the police force by all of us as a matter of routine and as a call of duty. Very rarely are members of the RBPF the direct victims of crime. We, the ordinary citizens are. Thus we assist ourselves by assisting them.
But there is another element to this scenario.
Our police must become more proactive as it relates to dealing with criminality in the island. We detect where a high degree of reactive policing, coupled with naked public relations, has crept into mainstream policing in the island over the past few years.
If there are reports of increased robberies, we get public disclosure that there will be a new anti-robbery squad. Reports of increased praedial larceny are often followed by information that there will be a new anti-praedial larceny squad. An increase of sexual assaults — an anti-sex crime unit. Domestic violence or domestic murder — a Family Conflict Unit. And the list goes on and on.
Inasmuch that the entire island should assist in fighting the crime scourge, the entire force should be a part of that same effort. We are aware that logistically and strategically there is an absolute necessity for specialised units to be assigned to deal with certain crimes. But our point is that squads are very small sections of the larger organisation and cannot be projected as the be all and end all of dealing with specific crimes.
The entire police force must be an anti-robbery unit, an anti-praedial larceny unit, an anti-sex crime unit and a Family Conflict Unit. And this should be so whether donned in plainclothes, uniform, sitting behind a desk, walking the beat or seeking promotion through the law courts.
We are aware from intelligence gathered that specialists, whether they be hand-writing experts, ballistic experts or accident reconstruction experts, are sometimes transferred from their areas of speciality to routine policing. Therefore it can be reasoned that response to a specific set of criminal circumstances should not be affected by the absence or unavailability of a particular unit or expert.
At the end of the day it will come down to a situation of being proactive, dedicated, and a willingness to respond swiftly and take decisive action when certain situations arise.
Sometimes we see felons reaching the courts charged with 30 to 40 instances of burglary and we often ponder how in a small country like Barbados did those persons manage to stack up those numbers? What were we, the public, seeing and doing when that criminal element reached five or ten burglaries? What was the police force doing?
And we ask these questions against the background that the cases had to have been reported initially; the perpetrators had to arrive and depart from the scene of their crimes; and in most instances, had to dispose of their ill-gotten gains. Where were the eyes and ears of the public? Where were our investigators before these reports mushroomed to 30, 40 or sometimes 50?
Barbados is still one of the safest places to live in the world. We owe this to the industry of our police force over the years, our education system, our social interventionists, our relatively high standard of living and a judicial system, that for all its institutionalised sloth, still functions with some plausible adequacy.
But we can do more. We are too small a nation for any form of criminality, blue or white collar, to thrive under our noses.
It is a matter of will, John Public’s and the Royal Barbados Police Force’s.