The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) is hoping the armed robbery at the St Leonard’s Boys School will prompt the Ministry of Education to move speedily on its promises of improved surveillance systems at learning institutions across the country.
According to reports, four armed assailants stormed the school at approximately 5 a.m. and held the watchman at gunpoint demanding access to the safe. They however fled the scene after reportedly struggling to make off with the safe and failing.
Classes were cancelled on Wednesday to make way for police officers to investigate the matter at the Richmond Gap school compound.
While acknowledging that the criminals’ heavy-handed approach was unusual, BUT General Secretary Herbert Gittens noted that schools have been the target of thieves for some time.
And, with instances of armed robbery apparently on the increase, the union leader has urged education officials to put contingencies in place as law enforcement officers work around the clock to keep crime down.
“Really and truly this is something that has crept into our society over the last five years or so. Never before would you have seen schools or churches as targets of criminals, but it seems that any entity is a target now,” Gittens told Barbados TODAY.
“Society has changed, but we hope that people can also change and that schools and private property will not become the target of thieves and bandits. So we are hoping for the best and the most we can do is hope that the police will do their part in assisting in keeping down crime,” he added.
The BUT General Secretary pointed out that discussions had been held with education stakeholders on the implementation of surveillance cameras along with an increase in the number of watchmen.
“That is something we hope they would actually follow through on because some of these schools are located in isolated areas and not all of them have the watchmen. So that is a measure that can be implemented.”
Herbert added that while safes are often kept at secondary schools, it is uncommon for large sums of money to be stored there.
“It is difficult to say from school to school how persons may operate. I don’t think it is something that is recommended and I don’t see it as something that happens generally. For sure, primary schools don’t generally have large amounts of money and secondary schools generally wouldn’t either,” he explained.
“Most of these institutions would be operating using chequing accounts, so there wouldn’t be any need for large amounts of cash on any of these compounds and I would think that where cash is collected at any time, that they would move swiftly to get it deposited at their financial institutions. I know from time-to-time you may have to lock away a few documents and may be a small amount of cash. But I don’t see any large amounts of cash being kept at any of these institutions,” the general secretary added.
Chairman of the St Leonard’s School Board Christopher Gibbs confirmed the incident and revealed that police were interviewing staff as part of the investigation.
He promised that an urgent review of security protocols would be conducted and where possible, upgrades would be made.
BUT President Pedro Shepherd while on national radio, expressed concern about the issue.
“Both during the day and at night, I have heard of watchmen who were challenged and had to run or hide. We also need to look at lighting around schools and I have spoken to that before,” he said