FRONT PORCH: Getting away with murder and other crimes?

POLICE at the scene after a shooting in Fleming Street that led to the death of a child on Tuesday night. Photo: Austin Fernander

POLICE at the scene after a shooting in Fleming Street that led to the death of a child on Tuesday night. Photo: Austin Fernander

“When the speed of repercussions drops, society loses a key deterrent against unlawful behavior.”

– Alec MacGillis

THE multiyear COVID- 19 pandemic exacerbated a perennial criminal justice problem in The Bahamas and many other jurisdictions: the inability to prosecute criminals in a timely (swift), certain and fair manner, encapsulated in the coinage, Swift Justice, the concept of which has its origins in the thinking and research of the late American criminologist Mark Kleiman.

Writing this month in The Atlantic under the headline, “The Cause of the Crime Wave Is Hiding in Plain Sight”, Alec MacGillis, an investigative journalist for ProPublica notes: “Above all, experts say, the shutdowns undermined the promise that crimes would be promptly punished... The idea is that it’s the speed of repercussions, rather than their severity, that matters most.

“By putting the justice system on hold for so long, many jurisdictions weakened that effect. In some cases, people were left to seek street justice in the absence of institutional justice.”

Just as the pandemic has affected public education, government finances and other areas of social life and public administration, COVID-19 has made an already clogged Bahamian criminal justice system much worse, severely testing an already overburdened system.

MacGillis offers the explanation of the Alameda County, California, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley that “the absence or delay of consequences for many offenders created the perception of a ‘lawless society”.

The end of lockdowns and the removal of curfews were always going to result in an increase in crime no matter which political party was in office. The severity of the surge in various crimes, including murder, appears to have caught the police and the current political directorate off guard and reeling.

A few weeks ago, Eyewitness News reported that the new Commissioner of Police, Clayton Fernander, explained that 55 percent of the then 75 murdered for the year were themselves suspects in murder cases out on bail. Fernander stated: “Our intelligence suggests that these individuals are being targeted by rival gangs.”

Residents of New Providence wake up to serial deadly headlines describing the most recent and gruesome killings. A child was killed in what appears to have been a crossfire shooting this past Tuesday.


Armed robberies and car thefts are on the increase. The pre-pandemic fear of being the victim of a crime has increased. The sense of lawlessness has dramatically returned.

Before the pandemic, former Minister of National Security Marvin Dames was making some headway in reducing various crimes, including murder. Still, there remained significant challenges in prosecuting criminals in a timely manner, which has dogged our system for decades and under both political parties.

Yes, responses to crime and its causes are multiple and at times complex. But there are often clear responses that have proven excessively difficult for our overburdened, often terribly incompetent and frustrating criminal justice system, inclusive of the police, the Office of the Attorney General and the courts.

One response would be, at long last, establishing the National Forensics Laboratory with the necessary technology and personnel. Such a lab could speed some trials and reduce the need to send certain tests and samples overseas, often delaying detection and prosecution. This is a relatively easy tool we can realise quickly.

Intelligence gathering, good policing, various crime-detection technologies, youth programmes and other measures are critical in preventing, disrupting and addressing the behaviour of gangs and criminals.

But when such individuals perceive, many times correctly, that their trials will not be heard in a timely manner and that they will be granted bail in due course, they scoff at the justice system, creating a wider ripple and sociological effect and mindset of lawlessness and contempt for authorities at all levels.

When a criminal’s experience in the criminal justice system is clogged, prone toward long delays, unresponsive and at times unfair, they deem such a system as ineffective and ridiculous.


We have lost much of the plot in our criminal justice system. Parents and teachers who deal with discipline can attest to Mark Kleiman’s claim: timeliness and certainty of punishment often tend to be more effective than severity.

Kleiman, who utilised insights from psychology, behavioral economics and organisational analysis, also appreciated the need for timely intervention through probationary, parole and other measures, including drug and alcohol treatment.

He once said in an interview with The New York Times: “When politicians say, ‘Let’s hire 5,000 more police!’ everybody cheers. Say, ‘Let’s hire 5,000 probation officers and create cost-effective alternatives to prison!’ and everybody yawns.”

A friend recalls his recent experience with the courts on a civil matter, which began several years ago. To be fair, some of the delays were caused by one of the participants in the matter.

But the more recent delays of the past two years have mainly been because of the incompetence and the chaos in the court system. The fairly simple matter has been adjourned twice this year because of filing mix-ups and because the attorneys and the courts do not always have the same documents.

This is a typical story. There are scores of others on the civil and criminal sides. The inability of the courts to proceed more efficiently helps to fuel the sense of lawlessness in the country.

Monday’s editorial in this journal captures the pervasive sense of lawlessness on New Providence: “Brazen is also a word that could be used to describe the killers involved in the country’s latest murder yesterday.

“The victim had pulled up at a service station to get gas. As he waited, two gunmen got out of another vehicle, shot him and fled. Once again, the victim was out on bail for a criminal offence.

“Opening fire in broad daylight, at a gas station, where a stray bullet hitting a pump could mean an even greater catastrophe. And the criminals got away.

“Again, there is no fear from the criminal element that they will be caught, no fear that they will face a trial and a court and a judge and a jury. Indeed, at the current rate of people being killed while out on bail, it seems far likelier to meet that fate than a judge’s gavel.”


Gang members and alleged offenders out on bail are wreaking havoc and putting others at grave risk. The police can’t seem to stop them. And the courts cannot seem to try certain individuals in a “swift, certain and fair manner”. The state has lost a certain control on the streets and in the minds of many Bahamians.

The government of the day needs to devise a more comprehensive response to how it will make a dent in the backlog of cases. This is not an easy matter and will take time, especially because of the backlog of cases made worse by the pandemic.

Further, there are many offences which do not rise to the level of outright criminality but which, nevertheless, can lead to disrespect for the law and for law enforcement in general.

Especially susceptible are young people who have not been properly socialised and who are more likely to develop contempt for law enforcement. The result is a greater likelihood of their descending into criminal behaviour.

Those responsible for law enforcement should pay more attention to matters like certain traffic offences and violations, unauthorised use of public property, unmuffled motorcycles, unauthorised advertising billboards, etcetera.

If there was more attention to these matters, perhaps some of our young people would be saved from graduating to full anti-social behaviour.

Returning home from overseas recently, a friend observed a mindset we all know well. He noted that he watched Bahamians where he was in Florida obeying certain basic laws as well as norms in shopping centres and other venues.

Yet, here at home many of these same individuals flagrantly ignore similar norms and rules because to do so is mostly consequence free, with certain laws and norms simply not enforced.

The slackness and lawlessness here at home are cut from a similar sociological cloth: toleration for and inability by ourselves and the state to address behaviours small, medium and large, which metastasize into a culture of criminality and contempt for law and order, requiring a range of therapeutics and at times radical measures.


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