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Worrying trend Bahamas has fifth highest murder rate in region
ERICA WELLS
NG Managing Editor
erica@nasguard.com

Published: Jan 13, 2011

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A compilation of statistics on Caribbean murder rates provides new context and insight into just how The Bahamas compares to its regional counterparts when it comes to the number of homicides recorded from 2005 to 2010.


The Bahamas had the 5th highest murder rate among 15 Caribbean countries in 2010 in what turned out to be a record-breaking year of 96 murders for the country. That amounts to 29 murders per 100,000 people(based on 2007 population figures).

It was also the third time in five years that the country hit a record-breaking milestone.

The international homicide standard that countries seek to be at or under is 5 per 100,000, according to the United Nations.

The Bahamas is far above that international standard, andaccording to the latest data on Caribbean murder counts obtained byNational Review,so is the large majority of other Caribbean countries.

Jamaica, which has a population of around 2.6 million, topped the murder rate list with 53 murders per 100,000 people. Jamaica recorded a total of 1,430 murders in 2010.

The second largest murder rate for 2010 was recorded in Belize with 42 murders per 100,000. Its murder count was 132. Belize has a population of around 311,000.

The third highest murder rate was recorded by St. Kitts-Nevis--population 50,000--with 40 murders per 100,000, and 20 murders in total in 2010; then Trinidad and Tobago with 36 murders per 100,000--472 total murders; then The Bahamas with 29 murders per 100,000.

The remaining 10 Caribbean countries'murder rates(per 100,000)were as follows:

•St. Lucia, 26(44 murders)

•St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 23(24 murders)

•Dominica, 21(15 murders)

•Guyana, 18(139 murders)

•Caymans, 14(7 murders)

•Barbados, 11(31 murders)

•Grenada, 9(10 murders)

•BVI, 7(2 murders)

•Antigua and Barbuda, 7(6 murders)and

•Suriname, 4(22 murders)

But that's not the whole picture.

Looked at individually and compared to figures over the last two years, Barbados, which came in 11th on the list and has a population of 274,000, saw an increase of 63 percent in its murder count over 2009. In 2009, Barbados recorded 19 murders. Last year that number jumped to 31.

Other noticeable increases included Belize which saw a 36 percent jump in its murder count, from 97 in 2009 to 132 in 2010. St. Lucia, with a population of 168,000 saw a 19 percent increase, from 37 in 2009 to 44 in 2010.

St. Vincent(20 to 24)and Guyana(116-139)both saw a 20 percent increase over 2009 to 2010. Dominica saw an increase of 15 percent from 2009 to 2010--13 to 15. Grenada jumped 43 percent, from seven in 2009 to 10 in 2010.

Although BVI, which has a population of 27,000, saw its murder count double--from one to two--over the last five years that country's count had peaked at 8 in 2008, up from 6 in 2007, 4 in 2006 and three in 2005.

The Bahamas'murder count grew by 10 percent in 2010(96), when compared to 2009(87).

Nine of the 15 Caribbean nations recorded increases in murder counts in 2010 over the year before.

"The murder rate is distressing throughout the region,"said Mark Wilson, who compiled the murder rate data and writes for the Economist from Trinidad.

"Even the'safest'countries have a higher murder rate than the U.S. Most European countries have rates around 1 per 100,000, and no death penalty."

It is interesting to note that Suriname, which has by far the lowest murder rate in the Caribbean, is the only independent country in the Caribbean to have abolished the death penalty.



A WORRYING TREND

Notwithstanding where The Bahamas falls in the murder rate table compared to its neighbors to the south, homicide trends in the country are very worrying.

By the end of last year, the country's homicide rate was almost seven times what it was nearly 40 years ago.

The international homicide standard of 5 per 100,000 has not been met since the 1960s. In 1963, when the population was around 130,000, five murders were recorded. Since 1963 there have been more than 1,700 murders.

And The Bahamas'murder rate has far outpaced the rate of population growth. As recently as 1991, the murder count was 28. The population only grew 19 percent from 1990 to 2000. And Department of Statistics projections set population growth between 2000 and 2010 at around 14 percent.

In the last six years the picture, when it comes to the murder count, looks something like this:

•2005, 52;

•2006, 60;

•2007, 79;

•2008, 74.

•2009, 87

•2010, 96.

No one knows what the year 2011 will bring, but the murder count is already at 7, just over two weeks into the year.

Police and government officials have placed the blame of the growing murder count squarely at the feet of the drug trade. Police statistics show that in the past three years drug-related killings, such as hits, retaliation killings, etc., contributed greatly to the high murder count. Officials argue that the killings that are not drug related, are often related to domestic matters. They say that"random"murders rarely occur.

But family members of murder victims find little comfort in these explanations.

The country's challenged justice system is also adding to the crime problem. The case backlog is a serious concern, and so is the number of accused murderers who are released on bail because their cases are taking too long to go to trial, only to re-appear before the courts on similar charges.

At one point last year there were 257 murder cases in the system.

The government has moved to tackle the crime scourge and the fear in the community that comes with it on a number of fronts, including the amendment of the Supreme Court Act to increase the number of judges to hear cases, a new director of public prosecutions to specifically tackle the case backlog, the introduction of electronic monitoring bracelets, the gradual implementation of CCTV in certain areas and millions of dollars to improve and beef up resources for law enforcement officers.

Some say the government is not doing enough to fight crime. The opposition consistently points to the dismantling of the Urban Renewal Program set up under the Christie administration, and touted as a major success in the fight against crime between 2002 and 2007. The issue of crime will no doubt be a major campaign issue as the general election draws near.



PROMISING SIGNS

Not all Caribbean countries are reporting increases in their murder counts. Five of the 15 recorded decreases.

Jamaica, which topped the Caribbean murder rate list, has seen its murder count drop over the last three years. Over 2009 and 2010 it saw a 15 percent drop--1,690 to 1,430. And over 2005 and 2006 the murder count dropped from 1,674 to 1,340. In fact, Jamaica saw all major crimes, including murders, shootings, rape and robbery decline by seven percent in 2010.

Trinidad and Tobago recorded a 7 percent drop in murders last year over 2009. In 2008 it recorded a heavy spike in murders--548, up from 388 in 2007; however, the 2008 figure has declined over the last two years.

St. Kitts-Nevis recorded a 26 percent drop in its murder count, from 27 to 20. In 2007 it saw its murder count more than double, from 8 in 2006 to 17 in 2007. In 2008 the murder count climbed to 23.

Antigua and Barbuda recorded the largest drop from 2009 to 2010, 63 percent, from 16 in 2009 to 6 in 2010. In 2005 it recorded only 3 murders, but saw a huge increase in 2006 with 13 murders, then 19 in 2007, and 14 in 2008.

Suriname, with the lowest murder rate of 4 per 100,000-the only Caribbean country to come in under the preferred international standard, saw a 24 percent drop, from 24 in 2009 to 22 in 2010. In previous years, the murder count came in at 16 in 2005, 23 in 2006, 24 in 2007 and 20 in 2008.

For the Caribbean, which depends heavily on tourist dollars, crime and the perception of crime is not only a concern for its residents and their safety, it is closely linked to economic growth.

The Bahamian media are still waiting for the release of comprehensive crime statistics for 2010 from the Commissioner of Police.The Nassau Guardianhas put in requests with senior officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest.

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