THE $4.6 million contract signed yesterday by Minister Tommy Turnquest to install 243 Closed Circuit Television cameras in strategic locations in New Providence is indeed a "critical milestone" in government's efforts to fight crime.
This programme should make a tremendous difference to crime detection on this island, provided that the cameras are closely monitored at all times and well maintained.
Much credit is due to National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest whose ministry has been unfairly blamed for not doing enough to curb crime in the country.
CCTV cameras are long overdue through no fault of either Mr Turnquest or the government.
During the FNM's first administration (1992-2002) the late Norman Solomon, who headed the Nassau Tourism Board, started a drive with then National Security Minister Frank Watson, who was also deputy prime minister, and Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Farquharson, to investigate the possibility of using these cameras to take the streets back from the criminal. Mr Turnquest, as then Minister of Tourism, was very interested in the project.
Trips were made to the UK, Canada and the US to research the value of the camera, the extent of its assistance in crime detection and how helpful it could be to law enforcement and the courts in providing evidence. They were duly impressed.
The drive was on to introduce the cameras. The idea was taken to the public. Some were concerned about the invasion of privacy, but as crime increased the voices of the naysayers were drowned by a public that wanted the eyes of Big Brother tracking the criminal, and putting a security blanket around them.
However, the 2002 election forced a break in the momentum. We were told at the time that the idea was taken to the new PLP government, where it found a comfortable resting place. No one seemed interested enough to examine its potential.
For five years, nothing was done to continue the programme. Even the police, we were told, "could not get the policy-makers to move on it." And so for five years those who today criticise Mr Turnquest for doing nothing to arrest crime had sat on a tool that could have been of tremendous help to law enforcement.
That's why today we turn a jaundiced eye on all their grandiose promises -- when they had a chance they failed to perform. If they are returned to office we can foresee another five years of committees, consultations and endless jabber-jabber. We hope the Bahamian people will not be so foolish.
However, when the FNM were returned as the government in 2007, the CCTV plans were taken off the shelf, dusted down and many months and $75,000 worth of domestic and foreign consultations, reviews and deliberations led up to yesterday's signing.
Initially these cameras will span "from St Alban's Drive in the west to Mackey Street in the east, and cover areas at least one mile south of Bay Street."
"Additionally," said Mr Turnquest, "the cameras will be strategically located in other areas on the island that will focus on high crime areas and hot spots, giving police officers additional eyes to monitor, prevent and detect crime."
Mr Turnquest has said that the police will be supplied with all the tools necessary to monitor and quickly respond to all emergencies.
The National Advisory Council on Crime shows that Mr Turnquest has not been wasting his time in an effort to find ways to curb the criminal element.
Many of the recommendations on the National Advisory Council's list for the prevention of crime have either been implemented, or on the way to being implemented. A inspectorate or secretariat for crime will be established to continue the work started by the current as well as previous commissions on crime.
The time has already been shortened between arrest and trial, and bail has been denied in the magistrate's courts for certain crimes. The pilot programme to electronically monitor individuals released on bail for major offences is already in place as is the enforcement of laws for seemingly minor offences. Police patrols in "hot spot" areas in urban, public and tourist areas, and public functions, during weekends and public holidays have been expanded. They have encouraged and assisted citizens in establishing voluntary crime watch programmes to help them keep their communities safe.
Improvements will concentrate on the criminal justice system; enforcement of the laws; crime and prison rehabilitation and various socialisation issue to help educate the youth -- community centres, after school programmes, and various youth related programmes. There also will be programmes to help promote positive lifestyles; establish a gang intervention and prevention programme, discourage the use of firearms, and in every way possible support family life. Family life studies will be mandatory in all of the schools, and programmes to deal with domestic violence will be a among many other programmes.
Mr Turnquest certainly has not been wasting anybody's time. He has been a hard working minister who has brought monumental change to his Ministry. It's now up to the public to do their part in changing their communities -- without the support of the communities, the Ministry's efforts will be limited.
But, regardless of what his critics, might say, it certainly will not be the fault of Mr Turnquest or the Royal Bahamas Police Force, headed by its able Commissioner.