The country’s top law enforcement official is again pointing an accusing finger at Customs officials for allowing illegal guns to enter the country without detection.
Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith told Barbados TODAY in an interview this morning that illegal weapons continued to make their way onto the streets of Barbados via legal ports of entry.
And Griffith expressed frustration that the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) did not enjoy the full cooperation of border security officials, including the Customs & Excise Department, as it sought to crack down on illegal firearms entering the island.
“We are still aware that weapons, firearms, are entering through our borders and that is not a secret. And so, we have to continue and strive for better cooperation and collaboration at our borders,” the top cop said.
During a news conference at the RBPF headquarters on Roebuck Street, Bridgetown last August, Griffith spoke of an “untenable situation” where persons charged with protecting the island’s borders might have been assisting with the smuggling of illegal guns into the country, either wittingly or unwittingly.
“From an investigative view point, 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,” Griffith said at the time.
“This is an untenable situation which has to be addressed if we are to stem the flow of these weapons.”
Those comments had angered the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which felt then that customs officers had been unfairly targeted. The union, which represents the main border security officials at the ports, had described the commissioner’s comments as “inflammatory and without basis”.
“If police intelligence suggests that these guns are coming through legitimate ports of entry, then officials should be identified and charged for this illegal activity,” the NUPW said then in a statement.
“The union considers the commissioner’s statements to be inflammatory and without basis; and believe they only serve to tarnish the reputations and integrity of all Customs officers.”
Griffith stuck to his guns today, insisting that “until we get that kind of close relationship” with Customs the country would continue to face difficulties in relation to gun-related crimes.
Asked why the desired level of cooperation was not forthcoming, he said, “I am not so sure that their emphasis is the same as ours [as the lead agency responsible for fighting crime].”
The police chief also held on to his position that gun amnesty would not work because those who possessed illegal firearms had no interest in parting with them.
“That’s not their forte; they want to get more firearms. I am not convinced that amnesty will do anything to alleviate the current situation that we have,” he said.
Griffith, who has just returned from an Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police conference in Suriname, said gun crimes and the porous nature of the borders were hot button topics.
“They are all struggling with gun-related crimes. So, we have concerns, yet I don’t think we are anywhere at the magnitude of some of the other sister countries. So I am happy to say that we are doing some things that are working,” Griffith told Barbados TODAY.
Earlier, the police chief had restated his contention that overall crime was down, including murders, rapes, robberies, crime against visitors and all other major categories of crime.
Speaking at RBPF headquarters during the handover of Segways valued at $80,000 by the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association to assist with patrolling boardwalks, Griffith did not give any statistical evidence to back up his contention.
The top cop also addressed the contentious issue of missing files that result in delays in matters going before the court, explaining the difficulties involved in preparing such files.
“The fact of the matter is if you are solving a lot of matters, a lot of files are there to be completed as well. So the same officers who are out there doing their best to bring perpetrators of crime to justice, they have to come back and make sure they prepare those files and prepare them properly,” Griffith said.
So far this year, there have been no official statistics on crime levels, but at the start of this year the Acting Commissioner acknowledged there was an increase in crime last year when compared to 2014, with the rise partly attributed to gun-related violence.