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Monday, November 23, 2009

Bahamas: Politicians 'highjacked' community policing

WE TALKED with several Bahamians this weekend about Urban Renewal and its effectiveness. There were many opinions, but all agreed that the programme was doomed from the beginning because it was bogged down in politics.

"You must remember," said one sarcastically, "what is now Urban Renewal started as the Farm Road project when a few policemen were strategically placed to impress the people. No Urban Renewal was on anyone's mind when that happened. The Farm Road project was solely to secure a seat for a politician."

In fact, said another Bahamian, community policing was "highjacked" by the politicians.

It was only when the police went into Farm Road and discovered such squalor in some of the homes that urban renewal was born and eventually the programme spread to other inner cities.

Instead of the police going into communities and discovering what was wrong and instructing the responsible government department to correct it, police found themselves directing home repairs, cleaning up garbage, and generally being involved in non-police work.

Another person did not see much change in the Urban Renewal programme when it came under the FNM-- other than the police being removed from school campuses.

The person felt that it was the parents' responsibility --not that of the police -- to make certain that their child did not go to school with a weapon.

"A lie is being foisted on the Bahamian people that Urban Renewal is dead. This is simply not true," said one police officer. "The programme has not been stopped, however, it has been changed."

He said the police had been providing the leadership.

However, when other organisations took their rightful place in the programme, the police stepped back and returned to their policing duties.

However, they continued to support the programme wherever their assistance was required.

The officer did not agree that the police should have ever been on the school campus. "It undermines the authority of the school principal and the school's staff," he said. However, although no police officer is stationed on the campus, an effective school programme with the police involved is still in place.

Each school has direct contact with the nearest police station and the police are on call whenever needed.

There are also programmes in place to give children police protection early in the morning when they arrive at school and in the afternoon when they are leaving. Police also supervise children who have been suspended from class. The police contact the parents, and have a programme to which the parents take their child for police supervision for as long as they have been banned from the classroom. These children are not wandering the streets. They are very much under police control.

But for politicians to say that Urban Renewal is dead or that protection is not being given to the schools, "is just intellectual dishonesty," was this officer's opinion.

However, another Bahamian saw what should have been a 24-hour community service being turned into a 9am to 5pm job for a civil servant. "They took the police out and flooded us with all these experts," he said. "In the social services you'd be surprised how many hands a request has to go through just to get one thing approved. In every department the public service is very weak."

What this country needs is dedicated community policing where police and people come together, united by a common goal.

Community policing was started long before politicians conjured up the controversial urban renewal programme. It was launched and managed by the police and in the areas where it was being developed, it was very successful.

We were intimately involved with the Nassau programme and gave considerable news space to a similar programme organised in Cat Island.

There was ASP Shannondor Evans, spearheading a programme from the police station in Elizabeth Estates, and Supt. Stephen Dean organising a student band and youth clubs in Cat Island. Both programmes were successful -- regardless of political affiliation residents were working with the police towards a common goal.

Cat Island, we were told, was a good example of how community programmes could make a difference. Faculty and staff at the Cat Island school commented on how the music programmes in particular had helped improve students' grades. It was thought that because of these programmes, students had become more focused.

Tomorrow we shall describe in more detail Mr Evans' successful programme in the Eastern division. This area included Prince Charles, Sea Breeze, Fox Hill Road and the Eastern Road.

There are probably many police men and women who are well versed in community policing. We know of two -- ASP Evans, and Superintendent Dean, who represents the Bahamas on the community policing committee of the International Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police. And we have heard of a third -- Supt. Carolyn Bowe.

These are the people whose skills and enthusiasm should be utilised in helping to coordinate and spread such programmes.

November 23, 2009