Perhaps the greatest obstacle to successful law enforcement in Barbados is misguided and unwarranted political meddling in the Royal Barbados Police Force. Add to this a deviation from areas of traditional policing, a failure to pursue non-traditional means of criminal detection, questionable recruitments, failure to pursue robustly criminal elements wherever and whoever they might be and a disconnect from the public. And things have fallen apart in Barbados.
Criminal activity has and will always be with us. It goes hand in hand with human existence. But we have previously stated that Barbados is too small a country and too densely populated for criminal elements – white or blue collar – to thrive with unfettered assurance. Barbadians know who the drug dealers are in their midst. They know who the gunmen are. They also know which politicians keep too close a relationship with both drug dealers and gunmen. Barbadians have their suspicions and/or intel as to who are the individuals working in the customs department, the ports of entry, the police force, the coast guard, the prison service, and elsewhere, who do not give their all towards wrestling crime in Barbados to the ground. So, if we know so much, why is there still a proliferation of drugs and weapons in our dwarf-sized communities – constantly entering and circulating – and seemingly getting worse?
We are told that there are a number of would-be businessmen who have opened stores, restaurants and other commercial businesses with proceeds directly derived from the drug trade. Our information is that there are individuals working in sensitive, security-oriented agencies whose possessions and lifestyles bear absolutely no resemblance to the government salaries they collect each month. We have had several cases of customs and port officials brought before the courts for their involvement in drug-trafficking. There have been suggestions that drugs, guns and ammunition enter Barbados among legitimate cargo in containers belonging to businessmen. There have been reports of prison officers trafficking drugs in our main prison. There have been coast guard officials brought to public attention as a result of allegations of their involvement in the drug trade. There have been allegations of crime files growing wings and flying unseen out of the Court Prosecutors Office of the police force. But in the midst of all of this, what is the level of detection, arrest and prosecution of individuals involved, that currently obtains in Barbados? It is basically negligible, we dare say.
We have laws in Barbados as it relates to the paying of taxes. We also have drug dealers and gun runners living affluent lifestyles with no visible means of legitimate income. But how often does police law enforcement collaborate with those working in that field to investigate and apprehend these individuals for this serious legal breach, even if a non-violent crime? How much cooperation does the banking system give law enforcement as it relates to providing intelligence on the liquid assets of known or suspected criminal elements? How frequently are our forfeiture of assets laws used when persons are convicted for drug-related crimes and can show no legitimate sources of income?
The court system is in a mess. We are told that there are upwards of 24 persons currently on bail on murder charges. We are informed that some of these murders were in connection with drug-related assassinations. Yet these perpetrators are walking the streets among us. How can this happen? The court system occasionally finds itself forced to give deviants bail because members of the police force are not producing case files and are getting away with their negligence. This speaks not only to their indifference but to the incompetence of their supervisors who either do not provide proper oversight or because of being placed in positions for which they are ill-suited, they have no idea how to provide direction on the preparation of case files. The end result, as evidenced on a weekly or monthly basis in the magistrates’ courts, is that paperwork remains lost in transition for several years.
But what about traditional policing? It seems police officers no longer patrol communities on foot either in uniform or plainclothes. This, we understand, was an effective way in the past to build relationships and garner information. Many have complained that even police vehicular patrols have become ineffective because invariably their tinted glass windows are mainly closed with those inside hearing nothing and seeing less. The response time to reports, we understand, leaves a lot to be desired, whether it be related to a domestic altercation or a criminal act. Alacrity in many of these situations can save lives; sloth brings the opposite result.
But one of the main sore points is political interference. Politicians think votes first, and all else afterwards. It is for this reason that they seek to ingratiate themselves with drug dealers who have influence on young voters working their various ‘blocks’ which these officials sometimes frequent. It is sending the wrong message. It emboldens young and old thugs when they rub shoulders with ignorant politicians, whether they do so under a tree or inside a kiosk. It is also problematic when politicians influence promotions in the police force, and even more deleterious when they subvert the daily functioning of the police force to facilitate some political whim.
We ought to examine ourselves and ponder on what we can do to prevent the entry of the next gun into the island, the slaying of our neighbour, or the further deterioration of the Barbados we used to know. And when we have done all that, the task of early intervention into the lives of our young people awaits.