Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bahamas: 'Operation Ceasefire' worth investigating

Tribune242 Editorial:

IN THIS column yesterday we discussed another approach to crime, one that would tap into a community's social problems and force criminals -- especially those operating in gangs -- to take responsibility, not only individually, but also as a group, for the error of their ways.

A Scottish police woman, impressed by the results that "Operation Ceasefire" was having in subduing Boston's criminals, tried to convince the Strathclyde police department, which included Glasgow, a city plagued by 3,500 gang members, ranging in age from 11 to 23, to explore the possibilities of adapting the programme to the needs of Glasgow.

Her colleagues were sceptical, writes Gavin Knight, in "The Week", a weekly London publication. They believed that Boston gang crime was driven by the control of the drug markets, with guns the enforcers, and gang members mainly African-Americans. They believed that Glasgow's crime was different. Police woman, Karyn McCluskey, disagreed. She was convinced that the "macho street code and group dynamics were the same." McCluskey said when she sat in on Boston gang trials she found that "the majority of the fights and murders were about respect. They weren't about control of the drugs market. Fights over girlfriends. Fights over territory. You've come into my area -- exactly what we have in Glasgow."

She was determined to try out Harvard-educated David Kennedy's "Operation Ceasefire". Kennedy flew to Strathclyde to convince McCluskey's colleagues. The £5 million needed to fund the project was raised. People were brought together from justice, government, housing, careers, education, social work, health and the community. After 18 months of planning, the Strathclyde police were ready for the first call-in. It was held in the Glasgow sheriff's court on October 24, 2008 and was opened by the sheriff.

Wrote Gavin Knight:

"Through a cordon of four mounted police at the entrance, 120 gang members were escorted into the courtroom by police in riot gear. A police helicopter hovered overhead and constables cruised up and down the Clyde. 'The chief of police stands up first. He gives a hard-edged message,' McCluskey recalled. 'Pictures of the gangs are getting flashed around on the screens. We know who you are, who you associate with, who you fight with. If we wanted, we could have a police officer outside your front door. You could see the looks on their faces. They are shocked.'"

Members of the community then spoke. An elderly man told how frightened he was to walk down the street to collect his pension. An Accident and Emergency consultant explained the difficulty in dealing with knife victims. A mother told of how her 13-year-old son was set upon by a machete-wielding gang. He tried to protect his badly damaged face, resulting in the loss of his fingers. "We had gang members crying because regardless of how good or bad their parents are -- they love their mums," McCluskey said. "That was the most powerful thing in the US, and it was the most powerful thing here too," she noted.

Another speaker had committed murder at 18. He explained the dehumanising and harrowing aspects of prison life. He told of spending his twenties in prison, "someone telling him when he can go to the toilet, when he can eat." He had a "level of remorse that speaks to them," said McCluskey.

It is too early to officially evaluate the results of the Stathclyde programme, but according to anecdotal evidence it appears to be working. It is reported that the Ceasefire model has been the most successful attempt so far to reduce crime in that area, and is being suggested for other British cities.

"Operation Ceasefire" provides a helping hand for anyone who wants to leave gang life and enter the world of worthwhile achievement. Each gang member is given a phone number to call if he wants to leave a gang. The boys are assessed by a social worker, and their needs are noted, whether it be a programme to get them off drugs or get them an education. Health care, career advice and social services are also provided.

We suggest that our Commissioner of Police give Mr David Kennedy a call to explore whether "Operation Ceasefire", or some adaptation of it, might bear fruit in the Bahamas.

Our crime situation has now reached a point where almost anything is worth investigation.

April 07, 2010