No time for complacency
In Barbados, any press conference called by the Commissioner of Police, whoever the office holder is at the time, is typically one that grabs the major headlines and generates much public debate.
But apart from his comments related to the controversial rape case involving two British women, Commissioner Darwin Dottin’s meeting with the media at the end of last year was largely overshadowed by other matters on the national agenda. We do not see that as a bad thing since crime and reports about it are often a double edged sword. While societies like to know what the criminals among them are up to, reported instances of serious crimes can equally intensify fears and anxieties. As it currently stands, Barbadians seem more interested and are therefore more engaged in debate about issues including the Alexandra School and the transfer of teaching personnel, the prospects of a national strike involving telecommunications company LIME, the likelihood of a general election in coming weeks and the heightened political activity currently prevalent. In light of this, it is therefore not surprising that in his year-end review on December 29 Dottin’s announcement of a “marginal” two per cent crime increase went virtually unnoticed. No one is happy with the existence of any crime, but as long as there is a society and human beings there will always be some form of criminal intent and activity. And despite the reported crime increase, concerns about burglaries and robberies and the use of firearms, Barbadians would be happy, for instance, that the number of murders committed up to the time of the commissioner’s statements were six fewer than 2011. Amid all the gloom and concerns about the economy and related matters like unemployment, however, Barbados has much to be thankful for in relation to crime. Unlike his colleagues in neighbouring islands, specifically Jamaican and Trinidad and Tobago, Dottin and the members of the Royal Barbados Police Force have not had to deal with the daily headache of rushing to murder scenes or to tell some unfortunate family that their loved one has died tragically. Those two countries and others like St. Lucia have tried a number of ways to allay the crime fears their citizens have.
This has included recruiting experienced foreign law enforcement officers, and in the case of Trinidad the implementation of a curfew in section of that country in 2011. Now, the twin island republic’s controversial National Security Minister Jack Warner has announced that 1,000 soldiers there will be given powers of arrest usually reserved for the police as part of a new series of crime fighting measures. Not surprisingly the news has met immediate opposition from sections of that society, including ordinary citizens, human rights groups, even the police themselves. Among those publicly supporting it thus far is Trinidad’s Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, but he has met criticism from the association representing his men and women, which has deemed it “ill-conceived”. Trinidad has its own peculiarities and has far more crime challenges than Barbados. It’s therefore not a surprise that its government is searching for every conceivable solution to such troubles. That does not mean that we in Barbados should not take note. After all it was not so long ago that Trinidad would have looked at the Jamaica situation and said it could not happen there. So as the search begins for a new Deputy Commissioner of Police in Barbados, and with the current Commissioner closer to retirement, it’s an opportune time for the Royal Barbados Police Force and all others involved in law enforcement to closely examine what is happening a short plane ride away from us. Complacency is not an option.