BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – ACCORDING to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, crime is defined as “an act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law...”
From time immemorial crime has existed in various forms. From the religious perspective, the Holy Bible informs that the first recorded murder in the world was committed by Cain who killed his young brother Abel. It was said to be an act of jealously and something that Cain had to live with for the rest of his life.
Following that incident and freedom to the children of Israel after more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, God had provided them his Commandments through Moses on Mount Sinai.
There were also other laws, such as the one in Romans 13:14-4, which says: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
In modern times we have seen the imposition of laws by the authorities against those who engage in criminal activities in an effort to gain and maintain social control. However, while crime in its various forms is forbidden by law, it is also believed to be one of societal norms.
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), a French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher, was one of those believers. He had theorised that crime is a normal aspect of society based on his belief that it serves a social function.
That social function, according to scholars who analysed Durkheim’s theory, is to supply or reassure the social norms of a society by the fact that crime is considered going against the norm. In other words, they claimed that crime is simply deviant behaviour that goes against social norms.
As Durkheim indicated, it was from that model law was created. It was created to protect people from being harmed by others and to ensure one’s rights as a citizen is not abused by other people, organisations or by a government itself.
Though crime is perceived as a normal aspect of society and laws were created to punish one who engages in the commission of that act, there comes a time when certain decisions have to be made as criminal activities intensify.
And it is from this perspective that the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis claims it had to solicit assistance from the Regional Security System (RSS).
Crime in St. Kitts-Nevis
Since the three-party coalition Team Unity took office in February 2015, the Federation has recorded 45 homicides (18 last year and 27 this year) and very large numbers of housebreaking, burglary, larceny, robbery and shooting incidents. According to a member of the Police High Command, most of these homicides and shooting incidents, which had left some victims seeking medical attention and others fortunately escaping unscathed, were gang-related and retaliatory in nature.
To date, a very large percentage of these homicides remain detected.
In its concern for the safety of citizens and residents as well as visitors to the Federation, the Team Unity Administration, in collaboration with the High Command of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force (RSCNPF), had initiated and implemented a Six-Point Security Plan following talks of a 12-Point and then a 10-Point Plan.
This plan has seen a significant improvement in collaborative efforts between the RSCNPF and other security agencies and also success in a number of targeted operations. It also resulted in the occasional increase in police presence in various communities.
The crime situation, according to the Government, was inherited and because of its escalation, a request was made by the Prime Minister for assistance from the RSS.
RSS’ presence in SKN
Prior to the Prime Minister’s formal announcement, during his Independence Address to the nation on September 19, of the RSS’ presence in the Federation, Opposition Leader the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas had somehow gotten wind of the Government’s intention and had criticised the decision.
Dr. Douglas contended that there was no major crisis in the Federation and raised objections to the peace-keeping body being here.
“Is anyone aware of a hurricane or other natural disaster having struck our Federation in recent years? I certainly am not. Is anyone aware of any social or political unrest in our Federation this morning and there are signs of rioting, looting or any other type of mayhem? I don’t think there is,” Dr. Douglas said while a guest on WINN FM’s ‘Voices’ programme.
He also said: “The RSS is called upon in the most extreme circumstances and so I am deeply concerned as to why the RSS has been brought into our Federation at this time and exactly what our Prime Minister is doing and why.”
Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris however responded to the criticism on Tuesday (Sept. 20) during an interview with ZIZ’s Jason Davis.
He stated that while in attendance at the 17th Summit of the Non-aligned Movement in Margarita, Venezuela, it was disclosed that Dr. Douglas had written to the participants asking them not to support the RSS’ presence in the Federation.
PM Harris also stated that while the Heads of Government from Member States of the OECS and Barbados were prepared to put their citizens in service to maintain peace and tranquillity in the Federation, Dr. Douglas was “reckless enough to attempt to discourage his former colleagues from sending this assistance to St. Kitts and Nevis”.
“I mean, by any stretch of the imagination, he has been disloyal to this country and he has shown, in my view, a reckless behaviour that his former colleagues condemned.”
He claimed that for too long there has been uneasiness in the country regarding what appeared to be the ease with which criminals were committing crimes.
“We have had instances of their daring and it indicated clearly that those who are on the side of law had had to make a determined effort to root out criminality in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis to restore the country again to one of peace, one of respect for law and one in which law and order will always prevail.”
Dr. Harris made reference to 2011 when the Federation was touted as being the murder capital of the world per capital with 35 homicides.
“…It was an abomination in terms of a small country having 35 homicides, and we look then at the response of the Government of the day when the NGO community and, in particular, the Chamber said enough was enough and that we needed to get additional support.”
He stressed that when the tri-party coalition took office, it was with a perspective that the Government must do all within its power to leave no stone unturned in order to restore the peace and safety of the citizens by calling upon the RSS after consultation with the High Command of the Police and the Defence Forces.
“It was an indication that we were going to be faithful to the pledge that security was paramount and that in our own view and in the view of every law-abiding citizen and resident, 23 homicides are enough. In fact, it is far too many and we therefore have to, as it were, ensure that the forces of law and order, that they consolidate, that they strengthen, that they complement each other where necessary and supplement the response to ensure that the criminals would understand that there will be no hiding place, that the Government and people will not retreat, that we intend on every occasion where the forces of law confront the forces of lawlessness, that the forces of law and order will prevail, and this Government is determined to call upon the international community to provide it with all the resources that could be mustered and could be buttressed in order to make St. Kitts and Nevis the safest country in the world.”
Two prominent citizens had voiced their support in the decision taken by PM Harris. One is legal luminary Charles Wilkin, QC, whose only comment was: “I am in agreement with the Government seeking assistance from the RSS.”
The other is former Minister of National Security Dwyer Astaphan, who claimed that Dr. Douglas criticism is unfounded and is based on politicking.
“The RSS has a broad remit, and part and parcel of that remit is to assist countries in matters that they constitute threats to their national security,” Astaphan said, adding that security is both economic and social.
He inferred that the RSS’ presence is justifiable since a small country like St. Kitts and Nevis with a population of just over 50,000 has been experiencing a large number of homicides and violent crime for many years.
“After serious, deep and clinical discussion with the relevant authorities, it was felt that additional resources are needed and permitted because the long record of serious crime in this little country constitutes a potential threat to the stability and national security. Therefore, it is perfectly justifiable for the RSS to be brought in.”
Astaphan claimed that it was not a decision arbitrarily taken by PM Harris, “but local consultations took place among the relevant stakeholders and they had to discuss it with the regional stakeholders…member countries of the RSS”.
He noted that this is not new because consideration was given on more than one occasion while Dr. Douglas was Prime Minister of the country. “The only difference is that the security forces in St. Kitts and Nevis at the time did not think that they needed the assistance of the RSS, but Dr. Douglas would have brought them in and he had no problem at the time.”
Operation Safe Streets
It is said that members of the RSS had arrived in the Federation a few days before Monday (Sept. 19) and though the strength of the contingent was not publicly declared, this writer learned that it had numbered over 60, mainly comprised of police officers and a few soldiers from Barbados and Antigua/Barbuda.
Operation Safe Streets is a law enforcement operation led by the RSCNPF aimed at ridding communities in the Federation of illegal firearms and ammunition, illegal drugs and instruments that can be used to commit crimes.
It was launched on Tuesday (Sept. 20) and the RSCNPF was supported by the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Department and the RSS.
However, since the RSS’ arrival in the Federation, Chairperson of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party the Hon. Marcella Liburd had stated that their presence indicated a lack of confidence in the RSCNPF to effectively manage the country’s crime situation.
“Can’t our local police and local security forces carry out these activities if they have to be carried out? Stop and search, cutting down marijuana trees, removing tint, searching of properties, is this something that is special to the RSS? What is the Government really saying to our local officers? Because to me this is really disrespecting our local police officers in a big way if we have to bring in the RSS to carry our stop and search and the removal of tint and so on.”
In defence of the RSS’ participation in Operation Safe Streets, Commissioner of Police Ian Queeley contended that the contingent’s presence was not a reflection of the local security forces ability.
“Its welcome, I don’t think it has anything at all to do with the capacity, competence or capability of the police officers here. The RSS has been deployed several times in different member states/territories for different reasons and it is no different what is being done. The exercise and operations that are being conducted here by the RSS is within the remit of the RSS.”
The top cop explained that the RSS is a treaty organisation and members of the contingent were sworn in as Special Constables.
“Of course our police officers are very well trained, better than many. The RSS is a treaty organisation and the RSS is called upon by member states/territories to assist in any given circumstances as outlined by the Treaty. And as such, if the RSS is brought here to supplement what the police is doing and to bring more of the necessary resources to bear on the operations, they have all the police powers. They were sworn in as Special Constables, which gives them the authority and police powers as is done in any other member states/territories when they are called upon to be deployed.”
During the contingent’s involvement in Operation Safe Streets, the security forces had conducted a series of stop and search operations and there was an increased presence of law enforcement officers within communities on both islands, as well as four vessels that traversed the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. From the streets, they had reportedly removed two illegal firearms and a quantity of ammunition as well as a significant amount of cocaine and dried marijuana leaves and stems.
As at Wednesday (Oct. 5), police reported that some 67,000 marijuana plants were uprooted and taken into custody, which had a street value of approximately EC$13.4M.
It was however evident that despite the success achieved in Operation Safe Streets, criminals were still engaged in housebreakings, burglaries, larcenies and robberies. It is understood that even though the security forces’ numbers had increased, they could not have been everywhere at the same time. No human is blessed with the spiritual gift of omnipresence!
The questions, however, that linger in this writer’s mind are: “Since it was stressed that the Federation had recorded 24 homicides for the year at that time and the RSS was called in to assist the local law enforcement bodies to combat crime, how many of them were detected during the four-week operation? Was anyone arrested and charged with murder during that period? Were there any trained sleuths among the 60-plus contingent from the RSS, or was it too short a period for them to peruse the files?”
Fortunately, there was no increase in the homicide rate and this augers well for the Federation. It is therefore logical to conclude that the perpetrators went underground.
The RSS contingent departed the Federation on Tuesday (Oct. 18) and this writer learned that a farewell occasion was held at the Police Training Complex on the previous day. But for some esoteric reason, the media were not invited. Very unusual coming from the RSCNPF!
Shortly after the RSS’ departure, when asked for a comment on the contingent’s presence in the Federation, PM Harris indicated to SKNVibes that he would not be able to speak to the “specifics” but noted that “they were a welcomed contribution to the safety of the country”
“We praise God that during the tenure here, so far, there has not been any untoward incident. And according to the Police High Command and the High Command of the security forces in general, their presence has lent much to the peace and security which we now enjoy.
“That being said, again, the High Command is very positive about the results we have had from sea operations, air operations and land operations. I am not at liberty to comment on the specifics of the assignment because the assignment is taking different phases and there will be different reiterations, if you will, of the programme.”
Dr. Harris commended members of the contingent and was high in praise of the Governments of the RSS member states “for seeing wisdom in lending their nationals to us to assist another member state at a time of challenge”.
“Equally, he added, “I must commend the Chamber, the Hotel and Tourism Association, the grouping of accountants, the Evangelical Association and all the NGO groups with which we conferred and who gave a resounding vote of confidence in our action. We thank them for putting the security and safety of the country above all else.”
He declared that the programme would continue as long as the security forces deem it necessary.
It is widely believed that the causes of crime are complex. There are many factors that contribute to it, and among them are poverty, unemployment, parental neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, low self-esteem and peer group pressure.
A very important factor, as posited by Charles Wilkin, is that in St. Kitts and Nevis “too many children are being brought up by television and video games and without role models, while their so called parents go merrily about their business leaving the society to have to mop up the problem they create”.
One of the major problems that exist in the Federation is the politicisation of serious crime. It is public knowledge that while in opposition and during the 2015 election campaign, politicians aligned to the Team Unity Administration had laid the blame of the escalated crime situation squarely at the feet of the then Prime Minister and declared that they have the solution.
Today, some Executive members of the SKNLP are casting blame on the Team Unity Government for its escalation. They have also levelled heavy criticisms at Dr. Harris following his announcement of the new Police High Command when he said: “Commissioner of Police Ian Queeley, he has overall accountability for all policing matters. The buck stops with him and he must hold all subordinates accountable for performance.”
Marcella Liburd said as the Minister of National Security and “Queeley’ boss, the buck stops with him”. However, in an exclusive interview with SKNVibes, which can be found at http://www.sknvibes.com/newsdetails.cfm/97396, Dr. describe the continued violence as “almost unspeakable” and stated that while he does not hold the Government responsible for the crime situation, it is responsible for at least leading the charge in initiating or hosting a conversation or consultation on the matter.
“Again, we are saying, Government is not responsible,” Dr. Douglas emphasised, “they said, when they were in opposition, that the Labour Government was responsible. I am not so callous and irresponsible to say those things but the Government has a duty. The Prime Minister, as Minister of National Security, has a duty, a responsibility to lead us into finding solutions to this continuing gun violence that we are having in our country, because I believe that together we can find the solutions.”
The Opposition Leader said he had called for there to be a forum among the stakeholders, civil society in particular, to discuss the crime situation with the Government providing leadership so that they ccould find solutions, but there was no response from the Government.
Crime is everybody’s business and the nation has seen those actors (Government and Opposition) who are ultimately involved in crime prevention have been charging back and forth with allegations and continue to fight as little children with their polarised agendas. Should there be a continuation of this behaviour, the situation will not get any better and the people will suffer at the hands of criminals.
It is said that the Defence Force is less than 100 strong and the RSCNPF’s strength is just over 400. Therefore, conclusively, the human resource of these two security forces may be inadequate to regularly cover all the areas within which crimes are perpetrated. But with additional boots on the ground, provided by the RSS, they were able to achieve significant success.
But as earlier mentioned, no success was had in the arrests and charges of those who committed homicides for this year and beyond. Also as stated before, the perpetrators of serious crime (homicides) went underground, but now that the RSS contingent has departed the chickens have come out to roost. And evidence of their roosting lies in the shooting-death of three individuals and injuries to two persons in St. Kitts.
The first incident occurred on Tuesday (Oct. 25) in St. Johnston Village where 39-year-old Marlon Mills of Sandy Point was shot to death execution-style and his female companion suffered a gunshot injury. Less than four hours later, 20-year-old Zennick McSheen of Cayon was gunned down in Ottley’s Village. Two days later, Chadin Buchanan of Boyd’s Village was shot to both legs while he was on Wingfield Road in Old Road, and Arlene Liburd and her husband Seymour Liburd were both shot multiple times last night (Oct. 28) during a robbery in the vicinity of the Wellington Road branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. Arlene succumbed to her injuries at the JNF General Hospital while her husband remains a patient there.
Analytically, this writer believes that the RSS’ presence in the Federation was impactful despite no detection on the homicides. But the contingent’s presence had surely indicated the need for more boots on the ground, which begs the following questions:
1. Do the authorities believe there are not enough people in the security forces to effectively combat serious crime?
2. If there are not enough people, why don’t they launch an investigation to learn what the deficiencies are and address them in order to remedy the situation?
3. If there are enough people in the security forces, how come they are not getting the job done and have to rely on the RSS?
4. Over the past three years or more, foreign experts were hired to train police officers in various subject areas of crime. Were these training courses designed to suppress violent crime?
5. If yes, are those officers who received training in some specific areas placed in departments where their expertise is most needed?
1. In an effort to increase the human resource in the security forces, especially the RSCNPF, the Government needs to improve on the members’ remuneration package as was done in Anguilla.
2. An increase in remuneration will not only attract certified applicants, especially from the CFBC, but it could initiate a significant reduction in officers having to moonlight.
3. The High Command needs to conduct a survey to rid the Police Force of undesirables, especially those involved in criminal enterprises and also those who have been proven to provide criminals with information pertaining to sting and impending operations.
4. It is widely believed that some officers do provide the names of individuals who had given information to the police concerning perpetrators of serious crime, especially homicides. Therefore, there must be a unified national effort to reverse the mistrust of the police that prevails among the majority of citizens and residents.
5. While a few may provide information via Crime Stoppers, more information that could lead to successful prosecutions can be had if a sound witness protection system is in place.
6. Twenty 27 illegal firearms were removed from the streets for the year and many more were seized in previous years, but none of them was identified in the commission of a homicide. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Government to provide the RSNPF with the necessary equipment to conduct forensic firearm examination in order to successfully prosecute suspects.
7. Prisons have been classified as universities of crime, and the over-crowded Her Majesty’s Prison is not exempted. Therefore, another facility needs to be constructed in a far-flung area to house juveniles, first offenders and those on remand for petty crimes.
8. Though it would be heavily criticised, no public announcement should be made whenever a contingent from the RSS is scheduled to arrive in the Federation to assist in fighting crime.
9. The judicial laws need to be revamped. Too many people have been given slaps on the wrists for crimes that warrant harsher punishment, especially those that are gun-related.
10. Government must make a concerted effort to create more jobs for the nation’s youth. In addition to consulting with the private sector, which has already started, the establishment of cooperatives may be a good avenue from which to start.
11. Government must organise all-age educational programmes on the causes and effects of crime and they must be conducted in all communities, especially those classified as depressed.
Crime has many faces and its escalation can adversely affect the economic growth of a country and can create a threat to national security. The RSS’ presence in the Federation was a welcomed one and it had certainly proven to be impactful despite the commission of a large number of crimes. But now that they are no longer here, can the momentum be sustained?
As a former Special Forces member, this writer is cognisant of the fact that in war one must grant one’s enemy with the said level of intelligence and even higher until they make mistakes. This means that those who commit serious crime in the Federation are intelligent, they keep abreast with what media houses publish and they monitor the security forces. Therefore, the security forces, especially the RSCNPF, must employ the adage – “To catch a thief you must think like one”.
This writer strongly believes that when there are only two actors on the stage there will be too much noise and ill-will between them to come up with a solid plan that can mobilise the nation. Therefore, the real actors on the stage must be an amalgamation of the private sector, experts who understand the causes of and solutions to crime and are attached to the Government and also to the Opposition, the media, the evangelical associations, a social group that represents family matters, and educators who are apolitical. But at this juncture in the political history of St. Kitts and Nevis, the question is: “Can the Government and the Opposition do this with the existence of the current polarisation, the castigations and the blames?”
It is indeed sad to know that many people who witness homicides remain silent but do call on others to provide information to the police when the victim is a loved one. Many of them are also privy to serious crimes before their commission. Therefore we must remember that the life we save may very well be our own or that of a family member or friend.
It is time for an amicable settlement of differences among gangs and also political leaders and to exercise the Nation’s Motto to its fullest – “Country Above Self”.