By Rashad Rolle
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Marvin Dames said murders are down 21 percent while overall crime is down seven percent compared with this time last year, two of many figures he announced during a data-heavy budget speech in the House of Assembly yesterday.
As of June 11, there have been 37 murders. In 2018 - the first period in nine years the murder count did not exceed 100 - 47 murders were recorded to this point.
Mr Dames said police also believe they have increased the murder detection rate, with people charged in 24 of the murder cases this year. Additionally, he sought to contextualise the murder problem, arguing that killings often involve people who know one another rather than happening randomly.
He said: “The reality is that 17 of the current 37 murder victims were known to the police. Six of the victims were on bail for various offences, including murder, and four of them were being electronically monitored for murder. In other words, in most of these incidents, the victim is known to the attacker. Nothing justifies a senseless killing, but we cannot turn a blind eye to these facts.”
Mr Dames said 507 people are presently in the system for murder, including 174 serving time at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, 212 on remand awaiting trial and 121 on bail being electronically monitored. And of the 37 people murdered this year, 91 percent died by gunshot wounds, he said, adding that 163 firearms and 1,914 rounds of ammunition have been seized by police so far.
“Included in these figures are 11 high-powered rifles, such as the AK-47 assault rifle,” he said. “This is a concern for us as there were a number of shootings where these high-powered weapons were used, resulting in multiple injuries, sometimes death, to those targeted.”
Crime in general is trending downward, he said, adding armed robbery reports have decreased by 20 percent, rape by 29 percent, unlawful sexual intercourse by three percent and robbery by nine percent. He said housebreaking reports have decreased by 37 percent, shop-breaking by 16 percent and stolen vehicles by 27 percent. Mr Dames said stealing is one category that has increased though he did not say by how much.
The Mount Moriah MP said police have issued 11,869 tickets to motorists for infractions, an increase of 28 percent over the same period last year.
Regarding drugs, he said police have interdicted 4,280 lbs of marijuana, 104,807 marijuana plants and 14.46 lbs of cocaine. He said 2,492 ecstasy tablets, 1,029 oxycodone tablets and 5,968 alprazolam tablets have also been seized. Drug enforcement officers recovered 43 marijuana cookies, 20 marijuana brownies and one marijuana cake, with Mr Dames adding that 667 persons responsible for these offences were arrested with 541 of them subsequently charged.
Mr Dames highlighted the Minnis administration’s investments in technology, equipment and infrastructure. When the Free National Movement came to office, he said, it met 193 of 243 CCTV cameras dysfunctional and a system that was plagued with bandwidth issues that prevented reliable capture of footage.
Since then, he said, 200 of the cameras have been fixed and 43 are in the process of receiving necessary updates. He said the administration has committed to expanding its CCTV programme for $5.9 million. A local company, Proficient Business Services, will be responsible for procuring 507 cameras, 100 of which will be equipped with licence plate recognition capabilities, another 100 with facial recognition capabilities and a further 120 with pan tilt zone capabilities to capture evidential information in real time, he said.
Mr Dames said the administration’s investment in Shot Spotter technology has borne fruit with the system alerting authorities to 187 gunshot incidents since March while recording a total of 572 rounds that have been fired.
After the murder of 11-year-old Marco Archer in 2011, a law was enacted allowing authorities to send notifications alerting the public to missing children. Mr Dames said the government has committed $3.05 million over three years for a Marco’s Alert System and a contract has been awarded to Multimedia Technology to facilitate the system.
Mr Dames also said regulations relating to a sexual offences registry, also part of Marco’s law, have been reviewed by Cabinet and will go out to the public for consultation.
“It is expected that a decision is anticipated sometime during the third quarter of this year,” he said. “An electronic registration would also need to be established that has the ability to track and monitor convicted sex offenders and has the ability to notify the public of their home addresses and information about their convictions. The system will use a combination of biometrics, information technology and tracking technology to monitor in real-time, register/check-in and record all information on sex offenders inclusive of location, photo ID, residences, aliases, offences and so much more. With such a system in place offenders will now be able to re-register periodically and/or check-in using kiosks which will identify them via biometrics. As such, the Ministry of National Security will issue a request for proposal sometime during the third quarter of this year to invite potential vendors to provide a Sexual Offenders’ System Software for The Government of The Bahamas.”
A registry was introduced as an amendment in 2013 to the Sexual Offences Act after Archer’s murder by a serial child predator. The previous Christie administration never created the registry and observers have questioned elected officials’ commitment to the registry. Mr Dames said last year that the government would establish the registry before the end of 2018.
The national security MP also said the government intends to recruit 263 new officers in the upcoming fiscal year; it recruited 35 new officers in 2018 and 135 in May 2019, he said.
Overall, the total number of police officers recruited under the administration by the end of its third year will be 533, Mr Dames said.
“This figure would represent 120 more officers the former administration would have recruited during their entire term in office,” he added.