By MALCOLM STRACHAN
THE Bahamas reached an unwanted landmark last week – the 100th murder of the year.
Despite Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander being adamant in August that the country would not pass 100 murders this year, we have passed that total before the end of September. Much as we might wish he had been proven right, he has been proven very, very wrong.
Quite why he said that at the time was baffling. The murder count already stood at 85, and as he spoke, he acknowledged that there had been a 21 percent increase in murders so far in the year. Last year, 119 murders were recorded – put a 21 percent increase on that overall and you can see the gap between Commissioner Fernander’s stated goal and the pace of murders at the time would have required a staggering turnaround to stay under 100.
That pace has slowed some, it would seem – murders are up 16 percent year on year now – but nowhere near enough of a slowdown to stop hitting that grim total. And that’s before we even get to the Christmas season, which often sees a spike in crime, especially robberies.
Much has been made of a gang war having driven many of this year’s murders, but we have heard little about that of late.
Instead, National Security Minister Wayne Munroe chose to talk tough, telling criminals that the police will get them.
He said: “Well, we don’t think that magically the fellas involved in gangbanging are gonna stop because we reach 100. We don’t think that gangbangers were created overnight. We see them ranging in age now from 15 up to about 23-24.”
He added: “We are telling them, as it’s been happening, if you insist on committing crime, the police are now out on saturation patrols; they will get you.”
And yet, while talking about gangbangers, he went on to say that “a lot of the murders are domestic related.
People don’t get along with people, people get aroused and suddenly decide to stab someone to death or shoot someone”.
So in other words, some are down to gang crime, some down to domestic reasons – the same as ever. Although he does shoot down one claim – from the previous commissioner, who claimed reduced murder rates had nothing to do with COVID-19. Mr Munroe said: “All over the world after lockdowns were lifted crime has gone up. So, that’s the reality of it.”
When it comes to the numbers, the deadliest year in The Bahamas in 2015, during the Christie administration, when 146 people were killed. That was a jump, but the previous years had shown a steady increase, from 111 in 2012 to 119 in 2013 to 123 in 2014.
After 2015, there was a drop to 111, then it rose again to 122.
Overall though, the numbers were high – but 2018 was the odd year out, with 91 murders. Then came the COVID-affected years of 2019 and 2020 with 79 and 73 murders respectively, then back up to 119 last year as lockdowns were lifted.
How high do we compare internationally? Well, the highest murder rate in the world is in El Salvador, with 61.7 murders per 100,000 people. Other countries in the top ten include Honduras, Venezuela, Jamaica, Belize, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines, although some of the data is out of date.
We rank one place outside the top ten, 11th, just behind Nigeria and just ahead of Trinidad and Tobago, with 31.96 murders per 100,000 people as recorded in 2017.
By comparison, the United States had a murder rate of 4.96 per 100,000 in 2018.
The Bahamas faces a mix of regional and local factors – but other than saturation patrols, which has been the go-to solution after a spate of murders here for many years, what are we trying?
Mr Munroe talks of “introducing programmes to divert young people from crime” and giving the police “more resources, more vehicles to be on the streets” and “introducing programmes so when you are in the prison we educate you for your release”.
More controversially, Commissioner Fernander has suggested looking at the constitution to stop people from being entitled to bail – that would be people who haven’t been convicted of the crime yet being packed off to prison while they wait for our incredibly slow court system to find them a date to answer their charges. More sensibly, he also calls for more judges and faster courts.
Certainly, a shake-up of the courts would be in everyone’s interests – court cases that last for years and years are of no help to anyone. Criminals commit crimes knowing it might be a decade before they have to answer for their actions, if at all, and knowing it is far more likely they’ll meet their fate out on the streets rather than inside a courtroom.
But as well as our high murder rate, there is another rate that stands out for The Bahamas – the number of criminals being shot dead by police.
Mr Munroe spoke after recent police shootings, saying: “If you choose to be foolish enough to produce a gun on the police, they will respond. The police are very aware that we have people who have no compulsion in taking life.
“And the one thing I encourage all officers is when you say these people who decide that they’re going to arm themselves, menace a society and produce a gun on the police. Could you imagine that – if you would shoot at the police, who would you not shoot at?”
The courts are again a factor here, with the coroner not having progressed investigations into police shootings at a significant speed.
Internationally, The Bahamas ranked in the top ten in the world in 2018 for the most police killings per head of population.
The number there is recorded per ten million residents – so it is skewed somewhat given our small population, but if we had ten million people on our islands, there would have been 275 killings by police in that year.
By comparison, the United States, from where we hear so much about cases of police brutality, even leading to global campaigns of protest, had 28.54 killings per ten million people.
So what does all of this say? Some things are clear, others less so. It’s clear this isn’t a problem that has sprung up just this year, it’s equally clear that there are regional factors involved.
What’s less clear is what we are doing about it. The commissioner has talked recently of “making great headway”, but given what he predicted about the murder total for the year, how accurate do we think his words are?
At least Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis has acknowledged the gravity of the situation. He said last week: “We are in danger of losing a generation, and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that that does not happen.”
That said, crime hardly featured in his party manifesto.
Mr Davis has a national address coming up soon. When he speaks to the nation, we shall see where his priorities now lie.