BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - While there are differences in opinion as to the method employed in the Peace Initiative to curb gang violence in St. Kitts and Nevis, the fact remains that success was achieved and kudo must be bestowed upon all those who contributed to this historic phenomenon.
Since the formation of gangs in St. Kitts and Nevis, it has been the first time in the Federation’s history that 30 illegal firearms and 73 rounds of assorted ammunition were voluntarily handed over to the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force by gang members.
Among those firearms were an AK47 Assault Rifle, a 12-gauge Shotgun, .22 Pistols and a quantity of Gluck Pistols
Taking into consideration the amount of ammunition handed over to the police, one can conclude that there could have been dozens of dead or injured persons in gang-related shooting incidents.
To date, there have been 43 illegal firearms removed from the Federation’s streets for this year.
In 1995 there were only four homicides and the number has escalated in following years, with an all-time high of 35 in 2011 which resulted in a foreign media house publishing statistics that indicated St. Kitts and Nevis was rated the number one murder country per capita among 10 others within the region.
Even before the closure of the sugar industry, the Federation’s economy was Tourism-driven. Many citizens and residents had voiced their disgust over the gang-related incidents and expressed their concern pertaining to the effects on the country’s economic growth should any tourist fall prey.
Their fears were realised on Sunday, November 10, 2010 when 21 tourists (including a baby) were robbed while on their way to Brimstone Hill. This incident had made worldwide headlines but, fortunately, the men involved were quickly caught and there was no significant adverse effect on the industry.
The Peace Initiative was introduced in February 2019. It involved the approval of an Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Fund that included the engagement of at-risk and marginalised individuals in properly structured legitimate activities.
It is understood that after coming into office and reviewing the crime issues, especially homicides and non-fatal shootings committed by gang members, the Team Unity Government sought solutions to create peace and calm in the Federation.
This led to the Administration appointing Jamaican-born Retired Major General Stewart Saunders as the National Security Advisor in the Ministry of National Security in August 2017.
The Government also allocated EC$84.4M in its 2018 Budget to law enforcement, which increased the number of judges in the Federation and social intervention programmes such as the youth group Explorer's Club.
Saunders had given over 37 years’ yeoman service to the Jamaica Defence Force and had headed that institution as the Chief of Defence Staff in 2007. Following his retirement in 2010, he was appointed National Security Advisor in the Ministry of National Security in 2012 and in 2013 was the Permanent Secretary in the said Ministry until 2016.
He was therefore a most suitable candidate for the Position of National Security Advisor.
It was learnt that he was very instrumental in the success achieved in the Peace Initiative, as he had developed the national architecture framework, which was approved by the Cabinet in 2018.
That architecture framework had required the development and implementation of a National Security Strategy, which was followed by a strategic review of government ministries, agencies and departments. It also required the coordination of the national intelligence resources, including the private security companies.
According to the Acting Commissioner of Police, Hilroy Brandy, the Peace Initiative had resulted in a significant reduction in homicides, non-fatal shooting and robberies.
He stated that an examination of the period January 1 to August 12 over the past three years showed a steady decline in non-fatal shooting and robberies.
“Where homicide is concerned, there was one incident in 2018 that was over 2017. However, the decline has been more noticeable over the past nine months in all three categories. To date [Aug. 12, 2019], there has been a 25 percent reduction in homicide, with the last gang-related one having occurred in February. There were 16 homicides for the same period in 2018, while in 2019 we have recorded only 12.
“Non-fatal shooting has decreased by 30 percent; that is from 23 in 2018 to 18 this year. A decline of seven percent in robberies has also been registered. In 2018 there were 28 reported robberies, while in 2019 there were 26. So, as of August 12, 2019, there were 844 reported crimes overall; a comparison of 1, 101 in 2017 and 1, 171 in 2018. This gives us a reduction of 327 crimes or 28 percent of reported crimes for 2019 so far,” Brandy said.
The Commissioner (Ag) stated that when considering the period – March 1 to August 12, 2019 – of the ongoing Initiative, homicides have reduced by 71 percent, with 15 in 2017, 14 in 2018 and four in 2019.
“Non-fatal shooting has been reduced by 70 percent, having recorded 27 in 2017, 23 in 2018 and seven in 2019. While the area of robberies still remains a concern, there has been a seven percent reduction - 36 incidents being reported in 2017, 28 in 2018 and 26 in 2019,” Brandy explained.
The Top Cop also stated that the gang members had decided that they would further demonstrate their level of seriousness to the peace effort by relieving themselves of their weapons.
It was bandied in some quarters that the Government was paying money to rival gangs and criminals in a bid to ensure peace and stability in the Federation; an allegation that was vehemently denied by Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris.
The Peace Initiative has since created an unparalleled period of tranquility in the twin-island Federation. Therefore, it would be seriously remiss of this writer not to commend the Government, the Security Advisor, the Royal St. Christopher Police Force and the intermediaries for the implementation of this historic Brainchild.