By Senator John H Bostwick II
Shadow Minister of Tourism
Free National Movement
I OFFER the following TNT Crime Prevention suggestions in my capacity as a 16-year resident of downtown “Old Nassau”, a father to a 15-year-old son and as the Shadow Minister of Tourism. My views emanate from my personal observations and experiences. I speak pointedly as a result of the recent murder of a tourist within the precincts of the waterfront development zone, our most populated tourist district; the robbery of tourists at gun point just outside the Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island, our premier tourist destination, regular random robberies of tourists, including a 74-year old US diplomat on her way to church on Sunday morning and, due to the admission by the Minister of Tourism who himself confirmed a noted presence of a developing sex industry at the cruise port involving our minor/adolescent young men.
As a resident of polling division number 9, Bain’s Town and Grant’s Town, I live in the centre of the most historic district in our capital. It is the locale that welcomes and plays host to four million tourists each who visit our New Providence for a few short fun-filled hours via cruise ship.
As father to a rapidly growing 15-year-old, resident within this neighbourhood, I am outraged to know that our very own sons are again up for sale on Woodes Roger’s Wharf! Just as sorry a state of affairs is the very real fact that as a father of a young male living within the most densely tourist populated zone in the region, I need fear violence of every nature; including daylight gunplay and fatal robbery. Crime in and around the Port of Nassau, presently the world’s number one cruise destination, our capital precinct, is definitely a very serious thing and a cause for real concern for any caring parent and every citizen of our Bahamas.
As the recently appointed Shadow Minster of Tourism, I state categorically that if we do not address and arrest the occurrence of crime at all and every level within our capital’s precincts we will have systematically destroyed the very bread and butter of our nation, its engine, its heart; and, we will all suffer profound consequences; the foreshadowing of which already looms as the nature of the travel advisory issued by the US State Department (and cruise operators) with regard to the safety of US citizens travelling to, and or, living in The Bahamas continues to paint an increasingly dismal portrayal. Recent events have led to the United States taking the unprecedented step of suspending their visa issuing services to Bahamians.
It is well accepted that until we successfully diversify the source markets from which we target our tourists and begin looking more aggressively toward the new emerging super blocks like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), we are very dependent on the North American tourist market, most pointedly East Coast of the United States and Canadian based tourists. That market can be adversely affected by travel warnings regarding overall safety concerns. We cannot continue to flirt with potential economic disaster caused by our inability to control crime in a concentrated easily definable area which is the bread basket of our economy, the centre to both of our primary industries – tourism and financial services, and home to our entire judiciary, legislature and executive as well as most of our most historic sites. To accept this is totally unacceptable and to do so would be to admit dismal failure as a free self-ruled society.
We can and must act and we must do so decisively. It is to this end that I offer TNT to diffuse the situation. TNT, the Tough Nine Tourism Crime Prevention Measures as, although we are pressed to diversify, revamp and upgrade our tourism product while simultaneously increasing ownership opportunities for Bahamians throughout the industry; our present priority must be to protect that which we have from this present crime cancer and to ensure that it is totally cut out and cured: After all, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
1) We must begin by clearly defining tourist zones:
a) Zone 1 - Waterfront from Fort Charlotte to Fort Montagu, to include the sea as the northern boundary and Shirley Street, McCullough Corner East, Lewis Street, Meadow/South Street as southern boundaries. This central zone can be further subdivided into distinct precincts, from East to West:
i) Montagu, extending from the Fish Market to Fowler Street along Shirley and East Bay Streets;
ii) Bridge Zone, extending from Fowler Street to Anderson Street;
iii) Shipping Zone from Anderson Street to East Street;
iv) Native Zone from Shirley Street to West Hill Street in the north to McCullough Corner East and South Street in south, East Street to Nassau Street, east to west;
v) Central Zone from Prince George Dock in north to Shirley Street in south, East Street in the east to West Street in the west;
vi) Junkanoo Beach and Long Wharf;
vii) Fish Fry; and,
viii) Fort Charlotte from West Street in the east to Chippingham Road in the west, West Bay Street in the north and Meeting Street to ---- in the south.
b) Zone 2 - Paradise Island.
c) Zone 3 - Cable Beach.
We must come to see our native environment as the lived-in location of the world’s most interesting and interactive amusement park. We must become “corporate” in our approach to how we deal with, handle and mature our national tourism asset. We must run our town better than any foreign developer of any foreign owned mega resort can run his/her/its five star destination property. We have unlimited local Bahamian expert experience in resort and hospitality experience. We can do this.
We can structure and fashion the operation and management of the Port of Nassau after that of a corporation not unlike Disney in Kissimmee, Florida which as a single entity manages multiple resort destinations and amusement parks, each the size of a small fully functioning city.
We can employ section supervisors, contracted with the responsibility to oversee everything from custodial to security departments as well as customer services.
Once we have identified our target “tourism zones” we can develop policing and security policies and pass the legislation necessary to enforce certain and determined standards specified and tailored to each zone.
2) Immediate and urgent saturation of CCTV systems throughout the zones:
Successive administrations have subscribed to the idea of the installation of closed circuit camera surveillance systems throughout our capital island. This process must be fully and professionally embraced by both the government and private sector concerns throughout the island but most especially within the target zones as a matter of extreme urgency.
a) The government needs to assure that funds are allocated in this present budgetary cycle to facilitate the immediate installation of a state of the art police manned CCTV system throughout the targeted zones. The system should be at least as sophisticated as that used in major metropolises such as London where persons can be located within minutes out of crowds numbering in the millions. Funding can be sought out of the budgets of the Ministries of Tourism, National Security and Works if necessary.
b) The government needs to provide incentives in the form of import, stamp and even property tax breaks further to the installation of private CCTV systems with extended memory which can either be synced or periodically downloaded to the police manned central control room. The use of such systems is now proven technology as the same have been used with great success throughout the world as both crime deterrents and rapid crime solving tools as seen during the recent Boston Marathon bombing. True Public Private Partnership in full and effective operation to the collective benefit of us all can be developed through the shared use of this technology. The effectiveness of CCTV systems was noted recently as the footage recorded by a private company’s surveillance system was instrumental in leading to the almost immediate arrest and charging of those suspected of the recent murder of a tourist within the proposed “Bridges zone”. Surveillance footage was also instrumental in the apprehension and prosecution of the “John Bull” robbery suspects. Private and concerned citizens who own and operate businesses (and residences) have installed such systems throughout our various communities. Government and police authorities should make every effort to embrace the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition to convene bi-partisan public/private crime forums as participated in by all stakeholders and seek to ensure access to this valuable crime fighting resource.
Surely the position enunciated by Minister Bell, in response to the Leader of the Opposition’s call for a bi-partisan crime committee sanctioned to come to a mutually agreed common national position on the retardation of crime in Our Bahamas, was misguided, to say the least. Moreover, suggesting that crime is a political issue due to the fact that it is politicians who make the laws to address crime; and it is they who determine what takes priority in the legislature; and it is the ruling party which is in a position to allocate necessary resources. Firstly, as the Minister is pointedly aware, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is as much a part of the Government of The Bahamas as the ruling party of the day. Opposition parliamentarians are no less politicians involved in the legislative process than members of the ruling party in the House of Assembly. To seek to exclude the Opposition from the process of governance is to attempt to grossly perverse the functioning of our system of Westminster governance and parliamentary procedure.
Beyond this, who do we as parliamentarians represent? Whose interest are we here to advance and protect if not the people of Our Bahamas? And, from whom does the government of the day obtain the resources with which to govern? Whose money is the government allocating if not the hard working taxpaying people of Our Bahamas? And, exactly who are the primary victims of this crime scourge?
The people, our Bahamian people, that is who.
It is beyond clear that crime is a national problem affecting each and every one of us no matter our politics, race, age, sex or creed. It is also clear that its resolution is beyond the efforts of any single administration as successive governments have failed to satiate the public’s growing fears as crime continues to threaten our economy and our very way of life. With the greatest respect to Minister Bell, whose professional expertise I know and respect, crime is and has always been an issue which should be left well out of politics. It is in every way a national issue (as are many others, including education, national economic diversification toward retardation of our national debt and immigration, etc).
One which would benefit immensely from bi-partisan participation regarding the devising and implementation of policies to be implemented going forward in order to aggressively lower our crime rate. We must come to grips with the presence amongst us of a “criminal class” made up of a set of persons who our leaders have come to refer to as “known criminals”.
Surely to reject an SOS for “all hands on deck” to literally Save Our Souls, with the purest intent to forge a bi-partisan union together with the greater religious community and members of civil society, was a misstatement! I am certain, we all want exactly the same thing when it comes to finding both immediate and long term solutions to crime. The truth is that we must address crime as a united front; we must attack crime as a people united against an epidemic outbreak; we must pass a unanimous resolution as a united nation declaring war on crime and all things criminal within our small little “close-knit” (21x7 mile) society.
Further mention can be made of the Member of Parliament for Killarney’s decision to use his parliamentary constituency allowance to install a CCTV system throughout his constituency’s problem areas as relates to crime. The MP’s who represent areas such as Bain Town and Grant’s Town, Centreville, Montagu and Fort Charlotte which overlap the tourist zone should be made to follow suit immediately; thereby ensuring the greatest immediate saturation of police manned surveillance systems possible.
3) Immediate saturation of visible police patrol units:
We must establish even greater visibility of police patrols of every description within defined zones; especially during the evening and early morning hours:
a) Greater movement and use of bike patrols throughout defined zones. Bike patrol partners should cover defined routes which take them throughout the zones from main roads to alleyways and footpaths. Officers on bike patrols should be mandated to implement rolling road blocks at random points throughout each day all along their routes. They should be made to become intimately familiar with all aspects of their routes, including known negative characters and locations, potential hot spots and developing concerns;
b) Much greater saturation of partnered foot patrols throughout the zones thereby allowing officers to be pointedly aware of all things happening on their routes while building relationships with the people who live and work within the communities they police;
c) Place officers on foot patrol within the defined zones in uniform to include white safari hats (helmets) with concealed weapons. Our police were once tourist attractions themselves on Bay Street as they are in London and New York. As we saturate the defined zones with a police presence, that presence does not have to be a visibly hostile unfriendly presence. In fact, it should and can be the exact opposite for our guests who should see them as uniquely Bahamian, full of information and a willing photo op.
Given the recent behaviour of young gun-wielding trigger-pulling police officers in the heart of town, we might wish to consider ensuring that the nature and disposition of the officers posted within the zones is conducive to being captured live on the ‘YouTube’ internet information super highway world that we now live in. To this end, I lend my avid support to policy, protocol and training procedures suggested by Commissioner Greenslade that all Royal Bahamas Police Force Officers receive Bahama Host training as a mandatory part of their training requirements. I go a step further to suggest that the cost for this additional training be borne by both the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Tourism rather than be placed on the overstretched Royal Bahamas Police Force budget.
d) We must return to police directed traffic on Bay and Shirley Streets. One of the most famous Bahamian post cards was a picture of a policeman standing on a black and white striped box directing traffic with robot-like precision in the heart of town. It is that image that drove many young men to want to become a policeman and the image that was most photographed by our tourists. It also speaks to a strong commanding police presence, one that will enhance traffic follow during peak hours and give the police a vantage to view the potential infractions of passing vehicles and their occupants.
e) We must be seen to be actively policing our harbour and waterfront by adding personal police watercraft and all terrain beach vehicles to facilitate regular beach patrol units. In the Bahamas, we sell sun, sand and sea; we sell our beautiful beaches as peaceful places to relax and enjoy life at its absolute best. Therefore we must ensure that our beaches are safe sanctuaries where our guests can rest, relax and close their eyes in absolute and total safety without fear of harassment much less theft and criminal injury. To this end, we must introduce a subdivision of the tourism police unit to specialize in beach patrol and beach safety. This unit must come complete with the necessary water safety and rescue training, appropriate beach towers along with suitable all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft to effect beach patrol, pursuit and rescue.
4) Immediate implementation of undercover sting operations:
We must be seen to take our policing efforts to the next level and be seen to actively pursue and prosecute those whose presence perpetuates our negative image. We now welcome tourists from every social and racial demographic sector within the United States and elsewhere. We must evidence the extent of our commitment to the eradication of crime throughout our tourist zones by launching a special squad of undercover tourism police:
a) We need to install a unit of officers posing as tourists to deal with those seeking to push drugs and prostitution, as well as those who seek to scam and hustle our tourists as they arrive at our cruise port and during their visit here in the capital. Such officers will be able to infiltrate drug, prostitution and other criminal rings active in the tourist zones as customers and/or as victims of scams; thereby, proving first hand conclusive and damning evidence on the perpetrators of these crimes toward their quick and rapid conviction and punitive sentencing.
b) At the same time, we need to appoint an undercover unit to pose as peddlers of illegal services, including narcotics and prostitution in order to arrest, charge and prosecute those searching for such; thereby sending a strong message to those who come to our paradise for such nefarious services and to the world at large, that we, as Bahamians, have decided that we are for sale. Nor for selling our patrimony.
5) Immediate retraining of officers within the zone and the introduction of dedicated special K-9 units:
It is my humble view that the use of lethal force should be the last resort for a peace officer. Neither local residents nor our guests should be subjected to acts of extreme violence playing out within the heart of our capital city. In recent years, officers have shot and killed a vagrant armed with a “box cutter”, discharged high-powered handguns on a street overflowing with tourists (as captured and displayed worldwide on the internet), been involved in an alleged public beating of a tour guide and been “beat-down” by drunken disorderly visitors. All of the above incidents could have been potentially avoided if our police officers were properly equipped with non-lethal weapons such as high-powered pepper spray and Tasers. Further, it is beyond time that all of our law enforcement officers be fully trained on non-lethal methods of restraint, and with some form of hand-to-hand combat as a part of their standard training.
Urgent and immediate consideration must also be given to the introduction of K-9 patrols throughout the zones but more so at our ports of entry. The advantages gained via the employment of K-9 patrols are proven to be limitless and constantly evolving. Dogs have become indispensable to uniformed services throughout the first world and are used for a wide range of detection purposes from bombs, weapons and ammunition to people, drugs and other contraband.
A passing K-9 officer can detect the presence of illegal contraband where even the prying eyes of his human counterpart can be deceived. Such units could and would conduct regular unexpected inspections of guests as they disembark the cruise ships, the ships themselves, as well as being stationed and patrolling throughout shops, stalls and vendors located within the zones. The K-9 officers utilized for this purpose need not fit the description of the standard pursue and attack police dog. Many jurisdictions have moved to the use of much smaller cute cuddly deceptively disarming breeds (possibly a team of ‘little legal Beagles’) in areas saturated with tourist traffic such as sea-ports and airports. I suggest we do the same.
The presence of such a dedicated special K-9 detection unit would greatly enhance the overall security and services measures offered by the Port of Nassau as we would be seen to be utilising the most effective measures available in the world today with regard to sweeping our port and the vessels that arrive here for the presence of weapons, explosives, narcotics and illegal contraband of every description on a continuous bases. This could be yet another opportunity to see the benefit of an appeal toward public/private partnerships whereby business owners within the zones could be given the opportunity to sponsor the costs of establishing and funding a special K-9 unit or units to operate within the zones.
6) There must be a continuously evolving public private partnership (PPP) between police authorities and business entities within the zones wherever possible:
As stated herein, we must foster an environment where Public and Private entities form Partnerships toward a united effort to eradicate crime throughout our capital. Such partnerships must extend beyond shared CCTV surveillance systems networks and private sponsorship of necessary police initiatives to the establishment of an active and constant direct avenue of liaison between the Royal Bahamas Police Force at the District Commanders level and/or above, and the leaders of the business and religious communities as well as other stakeholders throughout the various districts; most importantly within the defined tourism zones.
7) Immediate and pointed targeting of removal of all negative characters from the zones:
We have developed the term “known criminals” in local social vernacular. If such a creature does in fact exist then, it follows that “known criminals” and all other negative elements of society, including vagrants, peddlers and hustlers need to be removed from the defined zones via constant and repeated arrests for the same. Downtown Nassau presently plays host to a growing number of resident “vagrant characters” (known to the police) who roam the streets at all times of the day and night aimlessly, squatting where they may, urinating and defecating behind buildings and in parking lots, at times followed by packs of stray dogs. At some point we have to say “no more”. What we are presenting of ourselves to the world is beyond our worst, it is a shameful eyesore that is now too often “internet immortalised” as even now we are suffering negative press due to recent surfacing of an internet posting of a video recording taken by a tourist of a very unsavory profanity-filled exchange between an elderly Bahamian woman wandering on Bay Street and a group of tourists which included children.
Our police must be supported in their efforts to arrest and remove such persons for vagrancy via the passage of the necessary and appropriate “City of Nassau ordinances”; however, the process cannot end there for we must not become a society that simply incarcerates our downtrodden and socially inept for shame. To be such a society would be to the national disgrace. Again, I appeal to the spirit of public private partnership where sponsorship can be sought for a social services partnered programme toward the establishment of halfway houses and rehabilitation centres geared toward attempting to return such persons, wherever possible, to being productive functioning members of society; or otherwise, ensuring that they are cared for in semi-secure facilities.
Recently leading members of the religious community at the Christian Council express the growing willingness of the collective Church to play an even greater role in this regard. Should their efforts be matched by the rest of civil society in a national partnership with the entire public sector toward the eradication of crime we are certain to succeed. I suggest that the Government could greatly assist this process without further burdening the magistrate’s court system by creating an active and functioning Justice of the Peace Court to deal swiftly with such persons thereby enabling their smooth, swift legal transfer from the streets of our Capital through the court system into the rehabilitation/halfway house process.
We must come to see the gates of our Capital City as the entryway into one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations, just like Disney World, Time Square in New York, or Trafalgar Square in London; once we accept what we have in the Port of Nassau, what a national treasure our Capital City is itself, the literal heart of our increasingly fragile tourism and financial services economy; we will realise that we have to protect it and guard it jealously. To protect it we must define its precincts and determine to fully and properly police it.
We must “sweat the small things”, all things and every and which has the outward appearance of negativity. And, we must do so with the commitment of a united community and a sense of national urgency.
8) The effort to remove the “negative element” needs to be extended to properties within the zones:
Owners of derelict buildings and properties within the zone need to be supported and encouraged to ensure that their buildings are at the very least secure from entry and ascetically pleasing and maintained from the exterior. The government should extend every form of concession toward ensuring that these national monuments are maintained wherever and whenever possible. Owners should be given the immediate and necessary support where necessary toward ensuring that their properties are secure from entry and being vandalized, graffiti free and presented in an ascetically pleasing manner.
9) There must be a national determination that the port of Nassau is not a sex nor a narco tourism destination:
The final point is possibly the most crucial and critical in these, my humbly submitted, TNT Crime Prevention recommendations as it is potentially the “lynch-pin”, the fuse, the fundamentally necessary element to get it all going.
It is, the overall collective national desire and determination that we, while proud of our free ancestry and deeply aware of our pirate history, we are no longer a nation of pirates, we are no longer a country of robbers, looters, sluggards, bootleggers, drug runners where everything and anything is for sale.
Our national motto prior to Independence was “Expel the pirates, restore commerce!” it is now “Forward, upward, onward, together!”…I suggest we pause for a minute and fuse the two: “Forward, upward, onward, together toward expelling the pirate mentality and establishing commercial equality!”
The foregoing are offered as my humble yet carefully reasoned, considered and vetted suggestions toward the implementation to policies toward the immediate enhancement of police services offered within our nation’s most trafficked tourism zones. The same are offered in my capacity as the recently appointed Shadow Minister of Tourism and as the father of a young Bahamian resident within the said district. Before releasing these recommendations, I have had the privileged opportunity review of the positions and recommendations herein with those empowered with the Constitutional authority to actively consider the implementation of all or any of the suggestions herein. I release it now, only after having taken into account their advice and expressed opinion.
We must stand united as a people against crime! Divided as we are, we stand to be conquered cowering in fear as we are; as a new breed of pirates terrorises, rapes and plunders our precious Bahamas.
May God bless and keep The Bahamas in the palm of his hands.