By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN the wake of a recent spate of murders and violent crime, Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis yesterday announced a series of crime fighting initiatives to tackle gun violence in the country.
The measures include increased police presence in inner-city communities, the creation of a specialised police task force and focused attention to bettering mental health.
The government’s push to reduce crime comes after six men were killed in separate incidents since Sunday, pushing the nation’s murder count to 44 for the year. Twenty-two of those murders were recorded last month.
Mr Davis said evidence suggests that most of the murders appeared to be gang-related and added that many retaliation acts were now being carried out after being “postponed” due to COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews, which have since ended.
However, Mr Davis said his administration is taking a “strategic” and “unified” approach to tackling gang violence, with specific focus on hotspot communities. According to Deputy Commissioner Clayton Fernander, police have identified between eight to ten gangs in the country.
“We will increase police presence in hotspots with saturation patrols for as long as they are necessary. Our communities need more manpower and more resources,” Mr Davis said during a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday.
“The Royal Bahamas Police Force is creating a specialised task force focused on decreasing gang related crimes and apprehending those involved in firearms trafficking. We are expanding Urban Renewal to strengthen both community policing and the programmes that reach at-risk young people and provide pathways to opportunities and training.”
Further to that, Mr Davis said his administration will increase access to mental health services and mental health education through the public health system and other community-based initiatives.
He continued: “In the next few days, I intend to constitute the National Security Council which will support increased sharing of intelligence across agencies, allowing us to confront our security challenges jointly and with the best information possible and because criminal activities are not contained by borders, we intend to strengthen our collaboration with international partners.”
The prime minister also revealed that more resources are needed to help aid in the country’s fight against crime, saying the RBPF is looking for young people who want to serve and protect local communities.
According to police officials, the country currently has a shortage of about 800 police officers. Yesterday, Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle told reporters that ideally, the force should consist of some 4,000 officers.
His comment came after he too spoke about the nation’s escalating crime problem, saying the issue is being taken “very seriously” by the police force.
He said officers continue to target gun traffickers and crack down on the importation of illegal firearms into the country.
“The prevalence of firearms and illegal firearms in this country continue to be a grave concern for us in the Royal Bahamas Police Force,” the police chief said. “We’ve been working assiduously with our international partners to identify sources and methods and persons who have been actively engaged in the illicit purchase in some instances and importation of firearms in the country.”
He said many of the illegal weapons are being smuggled into the country from the United States, some through courier companies.
“We have identified that the majority of those firearms, illegal firearms, have been coming from Florida,” Commissioner Rolle said. “In particular, and what we’ve found is in recent months is a number of courier services that have sprung up in the southern communities and I have asked our partners to assist us in identifying these persons and companies and we have our liaison officers in Florida who are also working in partnership. That is yielding positive results for us as we try to interdict a lot of this firearm that is destined for The Bahamas.”
According to Commissioner Rolle, some 109 illegal weapons have been seized by officers so far for the year, however, this does not include those intercepted abroad.
Meanwhile, as it relates to crime fighting technology, Mr Davis added: “We are going to expand and improve the use of drones, CCTV, and Shot Spotter sensors so that our police have the tools they need to be effective.
“More robust intelligence-sharing, increasing the capacity of the police and enhanced technology are all critical but, in the end, reducing violence in our communities also required strengthening our families and the ties within our communities.”