Firearm use in Barbados has reached a crisis stage, and as a result the murder rate for 2015 is already on track to be the highest in the country in the last five years.
Those are the findings of the latest Homicide Study revealed today by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU) of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
CJRPU Senior Research Officer Kim Ramsay disclosed that despite a recent slew of killings, the number of homicides had actually fallen over the past five years.
However, Ramsay said while Barbados’ murder rate was among the lowest in the Caribbean, the unit was concerned that the 27 homicides recorded so far this year were already higher than the 22 recorded in 2013 or last year’s 25, and is set to eclipse the 32 recorded in 2010. A record 37 murders were committed in 2006, and Ramsay said she did not expect this year’s total to surpass this number.
The CJRPU researcher disclosed that 42 per cent of the murders committed between 2010 to 2014 involved firearms, and, worryingly, almost 60 per cent of this year’s 27 killings involved the use of guns.
“We’re now at a crisis stage . . . accessibility to firearms has led to a situation where a substantial proportion of murders are being committed with the use of a firearm. So when guys have access to firearms they are going to use them to solve their conflicts,” Ramsay said at a press conference at Almond Bay this morning.
“Once upon a time it was fists and rocks, and in the 80s and 90s knives were used to commit the majority of murders . . . but now they are using firearms.
“Even though we have quite a low homicide rate – and we generally do tend to have low rates of homicide – it is not a reason to become complacent…” Ramsay cautioned.
The study recorded information from as far back as 1980.
Ramsay explained that while people believed most murders were drug related, the study had shown otherwise, with “one off arguments” and burglaries each accounting for 16 per cent of killings.
“Only 10 per cent are drug related. I know there are people who expect that figure to be higher but the reality is that it’s not because most disputes are related to some form of conflict.
“Ongoing feuds are feuds between groups of persons but not necessarily gang related. So you may have a person who was in some form of conflict with someone from another group which escalated into violence,” Ramsay noted.
Another noteworthy statistic showed that males were both the main perpetrators and the main victims of homicides. She revealed that 83 per cent of offenders and 80 per cent of victims were male.
Ramsay insisted that judging from the evidence, there seemed to be a lot of “angry children” and called for programmes to be introduced in schools and communities to help address the problem of violence.
Meantime, Director of the CJRPU Cheryl Willoughby said the recent establishment of the Barbados Crime Observatory would help the unit to prepare a more in-depth statistical report in the future.
“Although it is in its infancy stage right now, it will help us to do a lot more in terms of criminological research. Right now it is limited and we have to rely on the data coming from police in order for us to conduct our research.”
Willoughby also called for a separate unit to be formed to help oversee the recommendations put forward by the CJRPU because her unit is stretched to its limit.