Under trying circumstances, the officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) make us proud daily.
Their track record of hauling culprits before the law courts in quick fashion has been nothing less than outstanding, and certainly a plus for citizens and visitors alike who still feel relatively safe here. But while their efforts rightfully deserve praise, there is strong evidence their sworn duty to serve and protect is more challenging than ever, and new strategies will have to be employed to arrest the crime scourge all of us law-abiding citizens long to eradicate.
The proof was no clearer than in last week’s photographs on social media of a group of young men proudly brandishing their illegal weapons; or the pictures released by police of four automatic handguns and illegal drugs hidden in boxes of detergent at the Bridgetown Port.
Disturbing, but not shocking. Most of us remember all too well last year’s images of a gun lying on the ground at a funeral, and others of schoolgirls posing with guns. This problem of illegal weapons, which led to the rise in gun violence over the last year, demands strong action.
Back in August, Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith spoke of an “abundance” of illegal weapons, which he said was entering Barbados “through legitimate ports of entry”.
Said Griffith: “From an investigative viewpoint, it is clear that there is an abundance of high-calibre weapons and large quantities of available ammunition on the streets. What is also clear is that [those] weapons are not lawfully manufactured in Barbados and the wider region, so they are being smuggled into the island.
“Our intelligence suggests they are coming through legitimate ports of entry, either assisted by officials, or not detected by them at our borders. This is an untenable situation which has to be addressed if we are to stem the flow of these weapons.”
His statement was cemented three months later when the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit warned it was nearing crisis level.
These conclusions are not new to the public, given the recent spate of gunplay –– fatal or otherwise –– which primarily involves young men.
The Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit has since embarked on a study of gun crimes and the extent and nature of the problem since 2010. While we await the outcome, we note with interest the latest statement by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that neither he nor the RBPF was keen on a gun amnesty to rid the streets of illegal firearms.
Mr Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY that an amnesty would not work because Government could not afford to waive prosecution
in every case for people turning in firearms.
“Police still have to ask questions if a gun is brought in . . . and have to do tests of the guns. Added to that, there is no guarantee that people are going to turn in their guns,” he argued.
A valid concern, admittedly; and while we stay clear of questioning the expertise of the Attorney General or RPBF, the issue appears to merit deeper consideration and wider debate, given the number of guns which have found their way into the country and which appear to be traded from hand to hand daily.
Our Caribbean neighbours, including Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Cayman Islands have all utilized the measure. Shouldn’t we examine the success or failure of their initiatives and perhaps have a programme tailor-made to suit our circumstances.
We acknowledge that a gun amnesty is not the only way to clean up our streets, but we need more than just expressed concern and promises to tackle the twin ills of illegal guns and drugs. Law enforcers as a priority must close the avenues through which the guns are coming into our island –– whether it be at the Bridgetown Port, our lonesome beaches at night, or at Port St Charles.
At the same time, stinging laws with punitive fines and jail time for gun offenders must be enforced in a timely fashion. And the public must hold no mistaken notion that an illegal weapon harboured does not threaten death among the most innocent of us.