By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
For months, reports have leaked out of Abaco of increasing levels of crime which are leaving residents on the main island and surround cars desperate.
Like much of the response since Hurricane Dorian destroyed their communities almost exactly a year ago they fell they have been abandoned by the government - left to pick up their lives as best they can.
Many did just that - spending thousands of dollars trying to rebuild shattered homes and businesses, living through months of hell when to many the only people they saw helping them were most overseas aid organisations who swamped the island after Dorian struck.
Few, if any, have a good word to say about the work done by the government to put Abaco back on its feet.
Latterly, crime has been a dominant factor in their lives. Many report t hefts from homes, cars and businesses and blame the lack of visible police and defence officers on the ground to follow up on incidents.
Comments last week by National Security Minister Marvin Dames rubbed salt into many Abaconians’ wounds as he seemed to brush off any criticism of police actions on Abaco, insisting there has been sufficient police manpower to cope and ifnact since Dorian the number of officers had been increased.
He said he has weekly updates from military on that island and has had no reports on “a diminished number of human resources”.
His reassurance did little to comfort many families The Tribune spoke to who were victims of robberies, some more than once. They are all living in fear and the general consensus is that more police should be sent to the Abacos.
Sharmon Malone, a resident of Hope Town, expressed disappointment in the lack of governmental presence in the broken island.
“There has been some serious thefts on Abaco, since the hurricane,” she said. “I had a 250 gallon plastic water tank, water pump and pressure tank stolen after the hurricane. No police report was filed because we didn’t have any police on the island until about two weeks after the hurricane. The defence force and police came up about two weeks after the storm. We didn’t see anyone from the government, officially, for a month, probably.”
Ms Malone and her family were not living at their house at the time of the robbery because it was badly damaged by the storm. She said they were there one day and the next day they went back and the items were gone.
“We saw no government official here. Wait! Actually, a helicopter landed about two days after the storm, in Hope Town. They landed, gave out some water and toilet paper and left. The government does not want the world to know what’s going on in Abaco. Some people are in tents, some people without water… so many unemployed people.”
Mike Fairman and his wife Kathy are also residents of Hope Town. They were robbed twice since Dorian passed through.
“The first time, they just came and got my generator in the middle of the night. It was a small generator,” Mr Fairman recalled. “I got up and it was gone the next morning. That was first time. That was in February. The second time they came in here when I was gone. I had left here and went to the United States.
“I had the place checked out before I got back by the caretaker and he went to open up my basement and someone had already opened it up. They took two generators and all of my tools. It was all my tools that I had brought over new after Dorian,” Mr Fairman said.
He said there is, “most definitely”, a serious problem with crime on Abaco after Hurricane Dorian and is saddened that his “retirement paradise” is being invaded.
“They (officials) are just referring to Abaco (mainland) when they speak of police presence,” he said. “They are not referring to police on Elbow Cay. We haven’t had any police protection over here. It’s been terrible. My wife (Kathy) and I are very nervous and upset about it.
“What the place needs is two policemen, 24-hours a day with cell phones that belong to the government that they only use to receive or make calls associated with crime on this island. If that happened everybody would feel much better, if we could get in touch with a policeman. They are not here. I just feel like I’ve lost my idyll. This was my little retirement paradise. I afraid to stay here now.”
Another Abaconian, Patty Sands, also robbed twice, said they are all in fear. She said goods are not even safe at the freight dock.
“After the hurricane, I had a small generator to run a fridge get stolen, I had my house robbed, electronics robbed,” she said remembering her ordeal.
“I had one guy, while I was sleeping on the couch, trying to get the screen out of the window right above where I was sleeping. I scared him so badly he went running. Every time I turn around somebody’s house is getting broken into. You can’t leave nothing at the freight dock; it gets stolen. We need police here to stop this. It’s getting out of hand.
“We are all in fear! I had to chain my generator to my post. That’s how we live now. I have a niece in Marsh Harbor and they cut her chain and stole her generator twice. There are thefts in Marsh Harbour and all over Abaco. Nothing can be left outside. People are just stealing.”
One of the more brazen, daylight, robberies was of Thomas Gates, proprietor, Gates Construction. Mr. Gates’ entire payroll, of some $18,350.00, was stolen from his truck which he left for only a few minutes.
“The guy actually works for me,” he said of the suspected robber. “So it’s an inside job. It was Friday and I do payroll every Friday. I pay in cash as some of them don’t have bank accounts. Obviously they were watching me. I did my payroll envelopes and I put them in the glove compartment of my truck. I stepped out of my truck for no more than three minutes down by ferry and when I got back to the truck, the payroll was gone. $18,350.00.
“They released the suspect. They said they didn’t find any evidence. I don’t know if they searched his dwelling. They had him overnight and released him the next day. Then like a week or so later, I heard through the grapevine from some of the other guys that work for me that he was driving around in a new car. Every time I talk to the police they say the case is still pending.”
Eighty-two year old, Vernon Malone, a Justice of the Peace, has lived in Hope Town all his life and fears that crime will drive away tourists and second home owners. He, too, gives evidence of the criminal element on that island.
“It’s killing the second home owners and the tourism industry on this island,” he said. “I’m sure the tourists are not accustomed to this way of life. You advertise that it’s pretty, that you don’t need to lock your door etcetera and then they come and they get robbed the first night they are here; they never come back. Then they tell their friends and their friends don’t come. So it’ killing the tourist industry here.
“I was staying in the little apartment by the church and my money and passport and my briefcase was in there. They picked the lock. They didn’t make any noise and took the pouch with my money and made off with it. I reported it to the police and until today I’ve not heard from the police and that was in March. I went to the police station to get a police report so that I could start the process of getting my passport. But as far as any report on the investigation, there was nothing.
Mr Malone said he identified a suspect for police, but there was no follow up from them.
Second home owner, Joanne Feinstein, had her house robbed shortly after the storm while she was out volunteering and has gotten no satisfaction from police there.
“Just after the storm, my husband and I were volunteering and we couldn’t live in our house because of the damage, but we had locked up our personal valuables as best as we could. When we went there in the morning it was ransacked. They stole his tools, my heirloom jewellery from my mother and cash,” Ms. Feinstein said.
“We reported the home invasion it to the police and there was no record. We filled out another police report and I called every day because I knew that the criminals had left flashlights and their fingerprints all over the empty jewellery box. There were three detectives that came to my home. Since then I’ve called and called and nothing has happened and that was ten months ago. We had a suspicion about someone who might have done it. We told the police and no one even talked to the person.”
Some of the crime victims in Abaco said people there are getting desperate as in some places there is still no light, no water, no cable, no internet and growing unemployment. They said they cannot go to sleep feeling comfortable in their surroundings knowing that at any moment they can be victim to another crime.
They are calling on Mr Dames, and his team, to add more police on the island and not just on the mainland, but on the surrounding cays as well.