The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) has revamped its anti-gun unit as it wrestles with a rise in gun-related murders.
Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith this evening revealed that firearms were used in 15 of the 19 murders so far this year, representing nearly 80 per cent of all unlawful killings.
This compared to 16 of 22 for all of last year, or 72 per cent of murders.
Griffith told a joint news conference with Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that lawmen were worried about both the murder rate and the rise in the use of guns.
As a result, changes have been made to the anti-gun unit to make it more effective.
“We have increased the numbers as well as retooled the personnel and that unit is now performing extremely well . . . to the extent that, with the assistance of TRU [Tactical Response Unit], the SCATS [Suppressing Criminal Activity Targeting Society] Unit as well as the CID [Criminal Investigations Department], we have been able to take some 44 firearms off the streets so far for the year,” he told the news conference at Police Headquarters on Roebuck Street, The City.
The top cop said he had also noticed another troubling trend of retaliatory killings by people involved in the illegal drugs trade.
Therefore, he said, people with information about those crimes were refusing to talk to police, making it difficult for lawmen to solve the murders.
“Murders are being committed among persons that know each other, persons who are often retaliating because of the whole drug situation that exists where narcotics is their turfs. Individuals are fighting for turf and as a result there is ongoing feuds. What we are seeing is that many of the deceased persons themselves are perpetrators of similar heinous crimes.
“And so, what is difficult is that in the past where persons report these matters and cooperate with the police, that is no longer the case in that many people are trying to exact their own revenge and so are not willingly cooperating with law enforcement to ensure that the perpetrators are brought before the law courts. And that makes it extremely difficult to solve crime relating to gang violence,” the Acting Commissioner of Police warned.
In 2015, there were 31 murders, above the average of 25 a year over the last 15 years, according to Griffith.
However, in 2006, 20 per cent of the killings involved firearms, significantly lower than the 78 per cent this year.
One of the reasons, the police chief said, was the number of illegal guns entering the country.
In the past, Griffith has pointed an accusing finger at Customs, suggesting officials there were allowing the weapons in either wittingly or unwittingly.
He made no such accusation Thursday, but said police were working closely with “other law enforcement partners” to try to curb the entry of illegal weapons.
“We are seeking to have that dialogue with our other law enforcement partners at our points of entry to ensure that we can reduce the number of firearms that are entering our ports. To do that, we have had some dialogue and we are hoping that we can have joint training in relation to the entities involved so that all of us can be on the same wave length,” the top
He also said there had been a commitment from some of these very law enforcement partners to share information and work with the Force to take even more firearms off the streets.
However, Brathwaite said Barbados would need much greater financial and material resources to properly man the island’s “porous” borders in order to get on top of the gun problem.
Brathwaite also identified the increase in private yachts and the fishing boats that use the island’s waters as another possible avenue through which illegal weapons enter the country undetected.
“Every yacht that comes into Barbados is checked by Customs and by Immigration . . . anyone coming into the port. All I’m making the point is that we have no mechanism. If 50 fishing boats leave Oistins this afternoon, when all 50 of them come back into Barbados, they don’t come back into the Bridgetown Port and bring their passports and Customs go onboard and check them to make sure all they brought in is flying fish.
“It is a reality in terms of our borders and how we operate. I don’t believe we have the wherewithal, or that we should move in that direction of every small fishing boat that leaves Foul Bay or Crane or Consett Bay that they should be forced to come back in and Customs board them,” he contended, stressing this was where intelligence was important.
Brathwaite also announced that pleasure cruise boat owners would now be required to provide information on the number and identity of passengers for safety and security reasons.