Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crime Stopping

If the Police Commissioner is correct, the increase over the past year in burglaries and 'property crime', which is now the bulk of crime reported in Barbados, is as much to do with the victims as it is about the criminals. His research indicated that most of these crimes are not planned but committed because 'the opportunities were presented' (see today's Advocate report, page 3). I think I know what he means, but you have to have a criminal mentality to see things that are not yours and then take them, so I am not sure whether it really matters that the thefts are not planned in detail. Someone, is planning to be a thief.

It is interesting that over dinner last night with a group of expatriate professionals from Canada and the USA, much of their conversation about concerns in Barbados related to property crime. One man told about the practice of 'fishing', whereby someone would use a fishing rod and hook to grab items that could be seen through an open grill, left that way to take advantage of the cooling breezes. The residents were meanwhile chilling elsewhere in the property. Another couple told of how security guards sleep on the job or are not aware of the cunning of robbers, some of whom are now using roof ladders to get access into condominiums and other kinds of property.

The Commissioner's claim that Barbados is amongst the safest places in the world, including for tourists, is not something I would contest, and the figure of 242 incidents reported amongst the 1.2 million tourists visiting the island in 2008 is astonishingly low. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that many crimes are not reported, either because the losses are small, or the person has been given the 'bum's rush' by the local police. One local person on a radio call-in this week indicated that he had tried to get the police to come to take his statement about a stolen iPod; they basically gave him the run around and had him go to the station fruitlessly four times. That police indifference and even disregard for citizen's complaints is something to which I can personally attest. A respondent to the caller's comments indicated that the value of the item seemed too low to warrant all that aggravation from a less-than-willing set of professional crime fighters.

Crime Stoppers have now set up their operations in Barbados and it will be worth seeing how this is used (see web site, http://www.crimestoppersbarbados.com/). As in many places, citizens are less willing to help solve crimes than they should be, often because of fear of reprisals, but also because of a natural dislike of being ignored by the police, and by the justice system being slow to resolve cases. Much of the commentary relating to the operation in Barbados has been about maintaining the anonymity of those who offer information. The sense that being an 'informer' is deemed to be less noble than keeping quiet is disturbing, but there is no point pretending that it does not exist. Several persons wanted to know how the B$1000 reward offered for useful information could be paid and anonymity maintained. A crime stopper explained that all informants gets a number and that is all that need ever be used, so that reward money could be collected from the designated banks by simply citing the number without showing evidence of identity. That means anyone with the number can collect the money, irrespective of how the number is obtained; so the warning was to take care that it does not fall into the wrong hands. We hope that those who operate the system are not tempted to be corrupt, here.

As Barbados tries to put on a serious face with regard to the recent assault of a Canadian woman tourist at Long Beach, and most hope that her condition of a deep coma does not lead to her death, it is full time for crime stopping to be taken seriously here. A B$10,000 reward has now been offered by an 'interested stakeholder' and that may wheedle out information to find the assailant. VOB radio's 'Market Vendor' made clear this week that the Long Beach problems were decades old but never dealt with, whether it was assaults or perverted behaviour, or harassment. Enough is enough. The Minister of Tourism did some good photo ops. there yesterday and we may see more police interest in the area, but what about 3 months from now?
I'm sorry to say that like a lot of things here, there's much talk and less action.

But cheap talk costs lives. Canada Foreign Affairs Department has already sounded warnings to its citizens about crime risks in Barbados and the need for greater vigilance. Canadians have also quickly started to report cases of assaults and robberies that occurred during their visits but were either not reported, or ignored, but happened nevertheless, and will be shared as warnings to others in their home country. It is easy to descend quickly in the eyes of foreigners because of crime risks, and with the importance of tourism so clear, that risk needs to be curbed.

No comments: