By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage broke his silence on crime last night, contending that the government is “up to the challenge” as the nation continues to grapple with startling crime statistics.
During an hour-long televised address on ZNS, Dr Nottage vowed that the government has moved to tackle the “unhealthy levels of lawlessness” that presently exist in the country.
As part of that effort, he announced that starting next month, he will lead community walkabouts on a “regular” basis while urging interested persons to accompany him.
The Bains and Grants Town MP stressed that while overall crime has continued its downward trend, law enforcement continues to battle a rise in homicides and a spate of gun related offences.
He went on to lament the roughly 25 per cent increase in homicides so far in 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.
To date, the country recorded 97 murders for the year, outpacing the number of homicides recorded for the same period last year, which was 77. He added that a closer study of murders over the last few years have yielded clear patterns.
Of those patterns, he said six out of every 10 murders occur in inner-city communities.
Records also indicate that 56 per cent of murder victims had prior criminal records; seven per cent of whom were previously charged with murder. As for the suspects, nearly 80 per cent of them had prior criminal records; 15 per cent of whom were previously charged with murder.
Additionally, Dr Nottage noted that illegal firearms are being used in the vast majority of the murders committed in the Bahamas.
He indicated that between 2005 and 2014, local police seized over 3,000 firearms. So far this year, police have confiscated 260 guns and 5,273 rounds of ammunition.
“It appears that while more guns are being taken off the streets, criminals do not find it difficult to get firearms and commit more violent crimes,” he said.
Another issue addressed by Dr Nottage last evening was the statistics surrounding persons on bail, charged with serious offenses becoming the victim or perpetrator of other serious crimes.
He said officials have discovered that one of every three persons who were charged with murder, were also on bail for another serious offence.
Dr Nottage added that 15 of the 97 persons killed this year were also on bail for a serious offence.
“In other words, research has shown that persons who are charged with violent crimes - including murder - are more likely to become a murder victim than persons who are not charged with a violent crime. The truth is that if these persons who were charged with serious crimes were not on bail, less murders would have occurred and the murder rate would have been lower.
“To confirm this observation, last year, 30 of the murder victims were persons who were on bail for committing serious offences. Had they been denied bail, there would have been less than 100 murder cases last year.”
He admitted that the issue of bail has been a perplexing one for the Christie administration. In fact, the minister expressed his own dissatisfaction with the grant of bail, insisting that if he had his way, no person charged with murder would be granted release ahead of trial.
“I understand the right to bail as guaranteed by our Constitution but I confess that if it was in my power, I would not release any person charged with murder on bail. Constitutionally, however, that power is only vested in the judiciary,” he said.
Dr Nottage stated that at present, there are a total of 10 Supreme Courts now sitting and hearing criminal cases. He explained that this approach ensures that cases are heard quicker, resulting in a decrease in backlogged matters.
Dr Nottage also mentioned the enactment of amendments to the Child Protection Act, better known as Marco’s Law, as well as amendments to the Sexual Offender’s Act, which have been passed by Parliament.
Dr Nottage added that the legislation has led to the creation of a nationwide alert system for missing children. Already, he said, there have been two cases where the system has resulted in the safe return of children to their guardians.
He also said the sexual offenders register is currently being prepared.
During his address, Dr Nottage implored residents to support anti-crime initiatives. He said there must be no tolerance for crime and corruption.
“Crime reduction is being relentlessly pursued with a renewed emphasis and vigor on dismantling criminal gangs, the removal of arms and ammunition from our streets and the removal of illicit drugs from our communities,” vowed Dr Nottage.
“Those engaging in criminal activity can expect to face the full weight of the law. Those who would threaten the security of our nation and our citizens should know that we will not shirk from dealing with them.”
Dr Nottage last spoke on the issue of crime on July 8, when he announced that the government had received a $20 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to aid the fight against crime.
Many observers have criticised Dr Nottage for seemingly taking a laid back approach to crime as the murder count rises.