Fellow St Lucians, I’ve got news for you: Inevitably, in the short term crime will only get worse. Your homicide rate will top 60 this year and as it was the year before, the majority of the fatalities will result from senseless shootings. As if matters couldn’t be worse, there is nothing anyone can do about this deadly state of affairs. The indicators point to more crime in the immediate future, more entrenched criminality. The St Lucia police force is not a deterrent. As for the projected 60 killings, it’s a figure that the St Lucian public and government will accept, if only because they have no other choice. Just as we have come to accept fatal accidents today as normal that would have driven us crazy with grief and shock years ago. We’ll simply shake our heads and say, well, 60 isn’t all that bad, it could’ve have been much worse.
So far, with the exception of the shooting incident near Roseau a couple years ago when three men were shot and killed while they slept, the shootings take one or two lives at a time. But consider what happened two weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona. Five people were shot to death by a lone gunman, 14 others injured. One of the victims, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is not yet out of the woods. In St Lucia the word is that the killers are in some instances better armed than the police, with high-powered weapons. A well known head of a local security guard company can attest to that. Depending on the scene of the crime, one burst from a criminal’s automatic weapon could easily result in ten to fifteen causalities. So now, does 60 still sound farfetched?
I remember well that when the death toll reached 35 there was the usual day of prayer, as if God had something to do with the murders. No prime minister, current or past, no minister responsible for the police, no chief of police, was sufficiently outraged to stand up and take responsibility. The death toll can rise past 60 and still no one will resign or be fired for non-performance. In fact, chances are the police chief will pass out awards to his men for a job well done. That’s the way things have gone for years. Nothing new.
Instead of focusing on the crime rate and attempting to score political points off the high number of homicides, we should be considering the resolved cases perchance to increase the total. Our criminal investigators should be preserving evidence from unresolved cases so that at some point when the police are hopefully more capable someone might go back to them. Years after a murder someone may find the courage to talk. A dying witness may have a change of heart on his deathbed and reveal to the police what he or she knows about say the killer of, say, Verlinda Joseph. You never know.
The public experience, however, is that if you go to the police to check on your case or to provide some additional information you will inevitably be told that the officer in charge of your matter is on leave or rest day. Witness what Brendan McShane was told at Christmastime when five of his shops were cleaned out: “Most of our investigators are on leave!” Our police do not carry out investigations into stolen vehicles. Our police force do not even process arrested persons. No photograph, no fingerprinting, nada. Who needs a fingerprint data bank when the police can compare suspect fingerprints with those at Bordelais. That appears to be the thinking of the authorities.
That situation is so commonplace and acceptable that the scenes -of -crime officer, while giving evidence in the shooting death of PC Remy in the high court, said he was so shaken up when he took pictures at the crime scene that they were useless as evidence.
Folks, our police force investigates itself when a member of the public is shot or killed at the hands of the police. I happen to be writing from Toronto where last weekend a police officer was killed when someone stole a snow plough and crushed him to death. The complete investigation is taken over by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). The regular police shot the perpetrator and as a result they cannot investigate the matter. But here is the interesting part: the funeral service will be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and over 10,000 people and police from all over North America are expected to pay their respects to this 35-year-old sergeant who was killed in the line of duty. Hundreds braved freezing weather to view the body. All of that because the Toronto public knows very well that without the police they will live in fear as indeed we do in St. Lucia today.
While I laud my brother Rick’s recommendation that the prime minister and leader of the opposition join hands in solidarity against a deadly enemy that respects no political colors, that will only be a small step in the right direction. The recurring problems with the police centre on the way it is set up. In this day and age we are still unable to decide whether we want to focus on combating crime or on maintaining a quasi military unit that we can put on ceremonial parades, rifles and all. Too much time is spent training police to drill. All the modern police stations have expensive space allotted for sleeping accommodation.What is the rationale for that? We even close police stations after hours. Not even grocery stores shut down these days after 6 pm. There is need to remind readers of what happened to the young boys in protective custody at the Marchand police station not so long ago. A Jamaican entertainer did not fare much better at the Richfond police station.
The uninformed public keeps asking to see police on beat and patrol as in the old days. The reality is that when policemen are on the beat, there is no backup and no means of communicating with them once they leave the station. The policemen and policewomen simply walk the streets and are too scared to notice anything unusual. They can’t even catch a cold! I pointed out in the St Lucian media that the reserve police on duty at the various points in the city are armed with S&W revolvers tucked into their waistbands with two or three rounds and three or four empty chambers. The police response at the time was that I was letting out police secrets and putting the policemen’s lives at risk. But what about the lives they get paid to protect?
I dare to suggest we divide the police into two sections and institute a national guard that would incorporate the police band and provide coverage for all the static guard and other strictly non-police functions that the force is saddled with. We could then establish a crime-fighting unit with the other half. After all, we do not want to interfere with the employment of these badly managed officers, so they could keep their jobs but they would be part of the national guard.
My main recommendation for the police is that we make the force accountable. The best way to accomplish this is to institute a Police Services Board. In Toronto, the Toronto Police Services Board is a seven- member civilian body that oversees the Toronto Police Service, Canada’s largest municipal police service. In Toronto, civilian governance of the police dates back to 1957, when the police departments from the original thirteen municipalities in the Toronto area amalgamated to establish the Metropolitan Toronto Police. A civilian oversight body, the Metropolitan Toronto Board of Commissioners of Police, was also created at that time. On May 15, 2006 the Toronto Police Services Board celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the Metropolitan Toronto Board of Commissioners for the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto.
The police would be accountable to this Board and the politicians would not be able to interfere in the running of the force. Just think: crime would no longer be political fodder. The police would be able to do their work when government officials are involved—without fear of transfer. Oh, what a day that would be. But I guess I’m dreaming. The nightmare reality is that the murder rate will escalate rapidly—unless the politicians come together and fight crime as never before. It’s a life or death matter!
Editor’s note: The author is a former local police superintendent and member of the Guelph police department in Canada.