It has been one of the most contentious issues in law enforcement, but Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite is adamant that it is no longer a question of if, but when cameras will be placed at ports of entry here, to keep an eye on what was happening behind the proverbial closed doors where customs officers operate.
His announcement today at the third quarterly general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association at the Hilton Barbados Resort was sure to gain the attention of the National Union of Public Workers, which has long raised objections to the idea on the grounds that customs officers were performing a sensitive role which required confidentiality.
However, with the country experiencing a rise in crime, particularly gun violence, and with the number of murders reaching 26 so far this year, 21 of them gun related, Barbadians have been demanding action to end the violence.
In was in that context that Brathwaite told this morning’s meeting, themed Protecting the Barbados Brand, that the Freundel Stuart administration was considering a series of measures to keep the criminals in check and help Barbadians feel safe again.
Among these are training for all border patrol personnel, including post office workers, and increased powers for police to stop and search people.
However, it is the installation of cameras at the ports, through which Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith has said multiple times the illegal guns enter the country, that will be the cornerstone of the new crime-fighting scheme.
“The Cabinet has instructed the minister responsible to do all within his power to immediately see that we have cameras at all of our ports of entry. We have done a security audit in terms of where there are gaps and where is the challenge [and] there should be no reason why customs officers, the trade unions or anyone should be against what we consider to be a national security measure,” Brathwaite said to applause.
“It wasn’t done in the past because there was some petty arguments [such as], ‘who are going to look at the cameras, what happens if an officer wants to do something private’ and all kinds of pettiness. Those days are past. It has to be done. Given the level of gun violence we are seeing in this country it has to be done and we intend to get it done,” Brathwaite told the audience, which included Griffith, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy and hotel executives adding that police and other border security officers would be given “equal” power at the ports of entry.
Brathwaite said Government was also “moving aggressively” to scan all containers entering the Bridgetown Port, “along with enhanced use of scanners and security cameras at all ports of entry”.
In an attempt to further wrestle the crime situation, Brathwaite said Government intended to allow police officers additional powers to carry out searches. However, he quickly acknowledged that such a move would have to be executed in such a way so as not to breach individuals’ rights.
“The law now allows police to stop and search individuals on suspicion that the individual has either committed an offense or is about to commit an offense. We have given the chief parliamentary council instruction to look to see how we can broaden the police power not only to stop and search, but to search individual properties even without reason of suspicion.
“It is a very dicey area of the law because you have the constitutional rights to property and we still have to ensure that we protect individuals’ rights . . . . So you have to ensure that there is a balance that in fact the police are given powers to enable them to readily carry out their responsibilities, but that people’s constitutional rights are not infringed. That notwithstanding, we are going to increase police powers to stop and search within our constitutional framework,” the attorney general said.
Brathwaite said Government planned to introduce anti-gang legislation, and intended to amend the Bail Act to make it more difficult for people held on certain charges to get bail and commit even more crimes while they are out on bail.
In addition, he said a new Firearms Bill was being proposed for licenced firearm holders and gun clubs to ensure “there was no leakage” of ammunition into the hands of potential criminals.
“Our concern, from what we are seeing, is that these individuals seem to have access not just to the illegal firearms but to the ammunition. So we want to ensure that our legal providers are not conduits to these bad behaviour,” Brathwaite said.
He also revealed that the proposed Civil Assets Forfeiture Bill would likely go before Parliament next month, and, when enacted, would give the authorities the legislative powers to confiscate assets even before a criminal matter goes before the court, once it is believed that the wealth was attained through illegal means.
In making it clear Government was determined to get a handle on crime, Brathwaite, also said there was no reason to panic.
“My holistic message is, while we have some concern in terms of the level of violent crime we do not believe that as a country that we need to press the panic button,” he stated.