Guardian News Editor
Published: Sep 09, 2013
On the eve of the 2012 general election, Perry Christie, then leader of the opposition, declared in a national address: “We are a nation and a people under siege.”
Christie’s declaration was in keeping with a theme of his party’s campaign — that the Free National Movement administration had failed to keep Bahamians safe.
He concluded that crime was the biggest problem faced by Bahamians, adding that, “to address this problem, we need to bring the nation together”.
Sixteen months after Christie spoke those words, we are still a nation under siege.
We live in fear. Many of us do our best not to go out after dark, and people continue to adjust their lifestyles in response.
The criminal element is terrorizing communities. Our tourism product is threatened and the quality of life of many Bahamians continues to diminish.
Perry Christie and his administration have so far failed to do what they pledged on this issue: They have failed to keep Bahamians safe.
Project Safe Bahamas — the promised prescription to ending the “siege” — has so far failed to produce any meaningful results.
The PLP promised it had the answers: Operation Cease Fire; new Strike Force teams for rapid deployment, an intense focus on repeat offenders and the most violent criminals, and saturation patrols in crime hotspots.
"No one should have to live in a neighborhood where fear and menace rule the streets,” Christie said in 2012, before he became prime minister for a second time.
“We are going to flood these areas with police, with resources and support.”
However, the Christie administration is still struggling to find the right formula to make any significant impact on major crimes.
And there appears to be little accountability from Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade.
What we hear is a great deal of rhetoric. What we are not seeing are the results that would make us feel safe.
More than 80 murders are on record for the year so far, and with numerous confusing statements regarding how killings are classified, there is widespread suspicion over the accuracy of the murder count.
Police are suddenly opting to use the words “homicide” and “sudden death” over “murder”, seemingly creating new rules some believe are designed to present a picture of a safer Bahamas.
Police do not provide daily, weekly or even monthly reports on housebreakings, car thefts or even armed robberies, so it is difficult to monitor how these crimes are trending.
Every few months, we are presented figures to show that they “continue to decline”.
At the end of June, the statistics given showed that crime had decreased by 10 percent. However, not all crimes are included as part of the statistics officials release from time to time.
And many of us feel no safer.
We are still prisoners in our homes, and we are still looking over our shoulders.
We have heard numerous stories from people who have been victims of these crimes in recent weeks.
Last Monday, NB12 aired CCTV footage of a carjacking outside Centreville Food Store. It happened at two o’clock in the afternoon on one of the busiest streets in New Providence.
Two women were forced out of their car by a man whose face was covered with a towel. Fortunately, the women escaped unharmed as the man pulled away in the vehicle.
But the chilling image of this incident on the news that night, scarred and scared some viewers who were reminded — as stated by Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis — that none of us is safe.
Davis made the statement after one of his aides was shot in June.
Last October, the 40-year-old brother of South Beach MP Cleola Hamilton was murdered, and last week, the 31-year-old brother of Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells was shot.
We have seen the politicization of crime so many times before by both major political parties. It is an issue that is easy to exploit, one that plays on the emotionalism of voters.
The Christie government has to be haunted now by those controversial murder billboards the Progressive Liberal Party erected in the lead-up to the election last year.
The PLP said it was not in the business of hiding the truth, and so it said to the world via those billboards that murder was the order of the day in The Bahamas.
But these days, some government officials are annoyed and disgusted that murder headlines continue to make the front pages of the dailies.
In a recent two-week period, we had 13 murders and multiple shootings.
The spike in murders followed on the heels of a useless crime forum hosted by Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage, seemingly as a part of a public relations exercise intended to show that the government is intent on involving members of the public in the fight on crime.
Faced with media and public pressure over the recent killings, Nottage announced a new crime plan on Friday.
As the commissioner of police remained quiet throughout the press conference to address crime, Nottage advised that all police officers on New Providence will immediately be placed on 12-hour shifts.
This decision has already placed the police chief on a warpath with the Police Staff Association, which said yesterday it had received no communication on this initiative.
Association Chairman Inspector Dwight Smith said officers are concerned about the structure of this new arrangement and how they will be compensated.
Nottage has also announced that 150 defence force marines will be immediately deployed to assist with the crime fight.
“This will have the effect of doubling the number of officers on the frontline,” he said.
“Secondly, all officers on the police band, as a consequence of this, have been deployed to front line policing. Further, I wish to advise members of the public that for the time being, all requests for the use of the police band have been suspended.”
In an apparent act of political stubbornness, the police officers are not being pulled out of the schools to assist in other areas.
Working the same number of men and women for longer hours will likely diminish the quality of police work.
Government and police officials have both acknowledged that one of the most important elements in the fight on crime is improving the administration of justice.
Failure to effect meaningful reforms in this area would continue to lead to prolific offenders ending up back on the streets in record time.
We have heard the promise of greater focus on intelligence policing, and while we do not expect any great revelations on efforts in this area, the public needs to feel some assurance that headway is being made in determining how so many guns are ending up in the country.
People who cloak criminals must also know that they will be targeted and themselves face stiff penalties.
While increasing murder counts and the perception that fear is rising among the citizenry often lead to greater calls for hangings, the reality is under our current system it is unlikely that anyone will ever be put to death again in The Bahamas.
Reaching out for the latest shiny object dangling last week, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis urged the government to resume hangings.
But it is not clear what his position is on how the government might go about doing that.
Both major parties appear bankrupt of ideas on how to deal with the crime problem.
It is easy to say hang, but an effective solution requires a real, well-thought out, workable plan.
There is support in some circles for The Bahamas to abandon the Privy Council, which through its various decisions, continues to write policy for The Bahamas and other such jurisdictions that send it appeals.
The most contentious have related to the death penalty.
In some quarters in The Bahamas, there is a widely held view that convicted murderers ought to be subject to the death penalty — as stated by the law.
Even with opponents continuing to point out that there is no evidence to show that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime, the call for the resumption of hangings more than 13 years after the last one was carried out continues to resound.
However, there are some Bahamians who remain opposed to any form of capital punishment.
No government, in light of the years of debate since the landmark Pratt and Morgan decision in 1993, has thought it appropriate to have a referendum on this vexing question of the death penalty.
In that judgment, the Privy Council ruled that it would be cruel and inhumane to execute someone who has been under the sentence of death for more than five years.
Given the lack of any timelines, the appeals process in many instances since that ruling has dragged well beyond the five-year mark, and many murder convicts have escaped execution.
It would be surprising if the current administration makes any moves to abandon the Privy Council.
The Constitutional Commission has recommended that The Bahamas keep the death penalty on its books and also keep the Privy Council as its final court of appeal.
However, the commission recommends that the law be amended to increase the likelihood that the death penalty would be carried out.
The commission recommends that the government amend the law to “tie the hands” of the Privy Council.
There has not yet been any announcement from the prime minister on what recommendations will or have been accepted.
These very weighty issues ought to be addressed in the wider context of the discussion on what to do about crime in The Bahamas.
These are serious times, and they require strong leadership and direction.
As the Progressive Liberal Party so often pointed out when it campaigned to topple the Ingraham administration, the priority of any government should be to ensure that its citizens are safe.
We are not.