As I set out to walk back to the STAR’s office from lunch on a recent peaceful afternoon at Massade, I felt like I could easily have been a witness to the next murder on the lengthy list for 2017. An angry garbage man was aiming large stones at the head of a resident. His colleague, with a bloody hand, followed suit. As for the targeted resident he was swinging his cutlass with the same bloody intentions as his attackers. All three were shouting: “I going to kill you in your ass!”
However, it was another incident that day that raised the homicide toll to 56. Terhanz St. Marie, 23, and his twin brother were shot in Babonneau.
On the penultimate day of 2017, it’s safe to say that this year has recorded the highest homicide toll in Saint Lucian history. Amidst the stench of death there are other things to note in relation to homicide and crime generally.
Out of the 14,654 crimes reported between January and September 2017, the police accepted 14,530. The reported number was a drastic 10% increase from the same period last year.
The statistics recorded by October 2017 showed the motives for the majority of the homicides were “unknown”. Most of the incidents had taken place in the Castries Basin and in Gros Islet, most involving firearms and sharp objects. The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force reported by October 2017 43 murders. Eighteen suspects were charged with twenty-one of them.
The Minister for National Security and the Commissioner of Police have said nothing to suggest things will change for the better in 2018—or even in the foreseeable future. The systems meant to deal with crime, justice and security in Saint Lucia are as inadequate today as in years past. A visit to our police stations readily reveals the difficult conditions of work endured by police officers. The Police Welfare Association earlier this year expressed concern about police allowances. Officers have also complained to this reporter that salaries and benefits for the force are not nearly enough to attract young people to the profession.
Additionally, there are the issues of courthouse locations and a shortage of magistrates. Senator Hermangild Francis admits: “Some of them are retiring, some are considering greener pastures, all because the salaries are not attractive.” The dysfunctional local forensics lab remains a matter of grave concern.
It is hoped that the recent, much ballyhooed crime symposium will lead to an improved situation in 2018. That remains to be seen. To paraphrase the prime minister, it cannot be business as usual where governance is concerned. He might say the same with regard to the people’s safety!