FORMER Deputy Commissioner of Police Marvin Dames, now a Free National Movement candidate for the Mount Moriah constituency, released a detailed plan over the weekend to “save the country” from the scourge of crime that has Bahamians looking over their shoulders, living behind burglar bars or gated communities and wondering every day if this will be the day their luck runs out.
Some of what Dames detailed in his presentation to young FNMs at their Torchbearers Convention on Friday is the stuff of pipedreams. But the overall tone is worth paying close attention to because it reflects a serious examination of the multiple and complex causes of crime and sets out a blueprint for dealing with the one issue that more than any other is defining our quality of life.
Those who say that Dames ‘musse jokin’ about metal detectors on school grounds have a point. In New Providence especially, many of the schools are open campuses on vast properties. Look at Doris Johnson High on Prince Charles Drive or C I Gibson, where the track field is so large that it serves as a substitute stadium-setting practice ground, or R M Bailey, where students routinely wander across to the Mall at Marathon. The government would have to erect 10-foot concrete walls around school perimeters and - unlike the American president who believes he can build a wall and have another country pay for it one way or another - Bahamian authorities already stretched for resources know that building a wall around every school is unrealistic.
If instead of metal detectors at entry points you equipped campus officers with them and let them stop students for random beep checks, parents would scream that officers were targeting their angelic child. Not only could random checks open officers up to charges of racial profiling and human rights violations, but they would build distrust instead of building bridges between police and young people.
We spent considerable time dissecting that part of Dames’ plan to demonstrate the diligence with which we reviewed the entire offering.
Moving past metal detectors, the Dames plan is impressive for two reasons.
First, it acknowledges how serious the crime problem is. It is a brutally honest recognition of what he calls “a mess” and prepares to attack it head-on.
Secondly, it makes every attempt to tackle it from every possible angle. But to do that effectively requires key legislative initiatives. The pending Freedom of Information Act set for continuing debate tomorrow must be changed to incorporate a non-partisan, fully independent Information Commissioner. No matter how many flowers the current Minister of Education tries to decorate the present appointment process with, the bill as it stands still creates a political appointee whose hands will be tied when there is an issue of political sensitivity.
Dames also calls for term limits for the Police Commissioner and we fully agree. A lifetime appointment can breed independence given certain legislative buttressing which does not exist in the Bahamas today and it can lead to complacency. Criminals remain fresh, constantly on the lookout for a better way to beat the law. The Commissioner and the officers who serve on the force must do the same.
Dames, to the best of our knowledge, did not address the ‘o-word’ - obesity. But we suspect that were he Minister of National Security, officers would be required to get fit and stay fit. That could mean opening a police gym and introducing nutrition and life wellness coaching or taking whatever measures are necessary to ensure that when a criminal is running from the scene, the person chasing him is in shape to do so. Just as importantly, a fit person is likely to be more alert mentally.
There are other measures of the Dames blueprint for tackling crime that we endorse, including neighbourhood crime watches and a sexual offenders’ registry, but the one we like most is zero tolerance. Only when we stop tolerating crime will crime decline.
As long as we tolerate the high level of violent crime and accept the morning’s headlines or the Facebook post of another young man’s murder as just another ho-hum moment, we will get the crime we deserve. When it comes to crime we have to take a lesson from history, slam our fist on the table, demand changes, say we are not going to take it anymore, throw the Mace out the window, or do what it takes to shake up the current static routine.
This is not a criticism of all the officers who put their lives on the line daily or even the intent of the Commissioner, who we believe is just overwhelmed. But this is a small island and someone knows where a criminal is hiding. Whether ridding the Royal Bahamas Police Force of corruption, clamping down on graft at every level or using CCTV and e-mailed or whatsapp photos accompanied by choice of fines or court date, we can do this if we really mean to. The time for turning a blind eye to the harsh light of crime is over.
Dames is not alone in demanding a serious grasp of what is facing us. Years ago, Branville McCartney as Chairman of the Crime Committee of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce warned Bahamians to sweat the small stuff. The motorcyclist who routinely runs red lights, the gangs on ATVs doing wheelies near school grounds where little children are crossing the street, the brazen, brash and disillusioned teen who is carrying a gun because it makes him feel big, will only be stopped when Bahamians finally say enough. We are not going to take it any more.
Whatever that takes, the time for talk is over. The time for action is now. Maybe Mr Dames’ report is the wake-up call that the nation needed.