Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bahamas: Crime solution needs a new approach

Tribune242 Editorial:

AFTER BEING off the island for the past two weeks we have returned to the same old story -- crime, crime and more crime. The killings, armed robberies and drug offences have been interrupted only by a freak tornado that brought tragedy to several Freeport families, and the signing of the Baha Mar $2.6 billion loan agreement with its Chinese partners for the redevelopment of Cable Beach, which, hopefully will translate into more jobs for unemployed Bahamians. On completion 6,500 direct jobs with 1,500 related industry jobs have been projected.

It isn't as though the police are not doing a good job in tracking down the criminal.

It isn't as though more members of the public are not stepping up to the plate with information to help the police in their investigations. It isn't as though committees are not being formed to try to find a solution to "our crime problem." All this is being done, but crime continues unabated.

A retired member of the police force believes that a successful programme will help if it can probe into the community's anti-social difficulties and find a solution that will embarrass the criminal into becoming a useful part of society.

Somehow the wayward have to be made to understand the damage they are doing to their country --the economy is now in a tailspin with crime threatening to shut off its very lifeblood, tourism.

It is true that there are hardened criminals who cannot be reached with such an argument.

We recall many years ago one of our Psychology professors likening this type of criminal to a product that arrives from the factory with an intrinsic flaw, the only remedy being to return it to the factory for remoulding.

In other words, these criminals are hopeless cases, who have to be institutionalised for society's protection. However, there are those for whom there is hope, and these are the ones for whom programmes have to be found to divert them from their evil ways.

The Bahamian police officer believes that many of today's programmes are ineffective. Firstly, it has to be decided what Bahamians are looking for and what they hope to achieve. They then have to discover whether their plan of attack is workable. If so, the plan has to be implemented with enthusiasm and determination -- not the half-measures given to most programmes today. In other words society has to be involved and understand that its members have to be serious about dealing with its social ills.

This line of thought recalled an article sent to us in January by a Tribune reader who believed we might "find it interesting and perhaps relevant to the current crime situation in the Bahamas." The article referred to was published in "The Week," a British publication.

The programme is very relevant and was along the lines that the Bahamian officer was suggesting. It is certainly worthy of investigation.

A Strathclyde police woman heard of the programme when police were faced with 71 murders in that region of Scotland. Most of the murders were committed in Glasgow, "making it the most violent city in Europe," said the magazine's article. Most of the deaths were committed by one-on-one battles among rival gangs. It was discovered that Glasgow has 170 gangs with 3,500 members, ranging in age from 11 to 23.

The police woman had heard of Operation Ceasefire, spearheaded by David Kennedy, a Harvard academic, in Boston, who "seeing crack-ravaged Boston housing projects in the 1980s, dedicated himself to researching new ideas in community-based policing. Boston's gang-related youth murders rose by 23 per cent, "The Week" reported.

Gavin Knight of "The Week" wrote:

"Under Kennedy's guidance, police, youth workers and other members of the project meticulously researched the violence. Who was attacking whom? Which gang members were in prison? The research took a year to complete. Once it was over, Kennedy's next move was to turn the gangs' group dynamics against them. He summoned gang members to face-to-face forums - 'call ins' -- which they could be compelled to attend as a condition of parole. The first was in Boston in May 1996, with a second in September that year. In the call-ins, gang members were not treated like psychopaths but like rational adults. It was businesslike and civil. The object was explicit moral engagement.

"They were told that what they were doing was causing huge damage to their families and communities and that the violence most stop. The police said that any further violence would result in the whole group being punished. In emotional appeals, members of the community, victims' relatives and ex-offenders spoke about the consequences of gang violence. And youth workers said that if they wanted out of the gang life they would be given help with jobs, housing, training and addiction problems."

The programme worked for Boston, but doubting Scotsmen questioned whether it could cross the Atlantic with any success for them.

April 06, 2010