Tuesday, March 26, 2019
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has warned criminals that they will be relentlessly tracked down and brought to justice, but failed to unveil new plans that haven’t already been publicised to aid the war on crime.
His announcement of a crackdown came as the efficacy of the force has been thrown into question by vacancies created in the Royal Bahamas Police Force with the exodus of several top officers in recent weeks from the organisation.
Eight high-ranking officers have been ordered to take accumulated vacation time followed by retirement. However, the move has raised concerns about who will be running respective arms of the force.
Nonetheless, Dr Minnis in his second national address for the year said: “We will be relentless in preventing and fighting crime. We will relentlessly track down those who do us harm.”
The war on crime will be expanded, he said, through the acquisition of 90 new vehicles for the police, adding 130 new recruits to serve in New Providence and Grand Bahama, installing 507 more closed circuit television cameras in the capital and the roll out of a drone programme.
He also noted a contract was awarded in late January for the installation of 100 shotspotters in high crime areas. This technology increases the ability of police to more quickly respond to gun-related crime.
Additionally, he said there are plans to enhance law enforcement’s interception capabilities by decentralising the dispatch of vessels in the southern Bahamas.
The prime minister said education plays a critical role in preventing and addressing crime, but the lion’s share of the work had to be done through enhanced policing, the criminal justice system and mobilisation of cutting edge technology to better secure homes, streets and businesses.
“After many years of increasing crime rates, our neighbourhoods are getting safer, and more secure. We are safer and more secure because of our comprehensive approach to policing,” Dr Minnis said during the address. “But we still have plenty work to do. We have a long way to go. But we are making strides in the fight against crime. There have been reductions in serious crimes, like murder, armed robbery and shop breaking.”
He continued: “In 2018, there was a 25 percent decrease in the murder rate, an 18 percent decrease in armed robberies, and a 23 percent decrease in unlawful sexual offences. But we must do even more, to reduce crime. Today, there are more police officers patrolling the streets instead of sitting behind a desk. Our manpower audit has helped us redirect personnel in the fight against crime.”
According to the prime minister, the RBPF attributed the decreased in crime to increased visibility and geo-referenced based monitoring for the strategic deployment of police officers.
In 2018, 100 newly appointed police officers were deployed throughout the agency to provide additional manpower to assist with the overall management of crime on New Providence.
Last year also saw 1,213 officers from the RBPF, Departments of Customs and Immigration, Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Bahamas Department of Correctional Services trained and retrained.
The Neighbourhood Watch Council has further sparked an overwhelming response by communities to formalise and to equip their respective watch groups with the necessary training.
At the end of February, there were a total of 92 neighbourhood watch groups - 80 in New Providence and 12 in Grand Bahama – and 269 people were graduated from the National Neighbourhood Watch Council training programmes in 2018.
The country’s recidivism rate is also on the government’s radar.
The prime minister said BDCS has increased the number of participants in personal development programmes, and employability opportunities, through work release programmes.
So far, 124 inmates, both male and female, were graduated from BTVI concentrating in subjects such as auto mechanics, barbering, carpentry, computers, electrical work, garment making, plumbing and masonry.
The government is also renovating and repairing BDCS’ maximum security unit and a new rehabilitative dormitory and kitchen are expected to be completed this year.
Recognising that education plays a role in the decision of those who resort to a life of crime, Dr Minnis noted a greater emphasis on improving the country’s educational frame work. Most of the emphasis is being placed on foundation learning.
He said: “At the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year three new pre-school classrooms were opened in New Providence, with an additional four new state-of-the-art pre-school classrooms just about completed. To date, more than 700 additional students have been enrolled in public and private pre-schools through the universal pre-primary initiative. Of these just under 400 vouchers have been paid to the Ministry of Education-approved private pre-school providers through the Private Pre-school Partnership Programme.
“Three and four year olds whose parents could not afford to send them to pre-school now have access to pre-primary education, to prepare them for first grade. We have launched a lower primary school literacy effort. The goal is to implement strategies to increase the percentage of students achieving A-D in Language Arts in the Grade Level Assessment Test, known as GLAT.”
A pilot programme introducing tablets to preschoolers in public schools was also highlighted and 11 preschools in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Long Island, Andros, Cat Island, and Abaco, participated in the pilot project.
To support the use of tablets, Dr Minnis also noted that infrastructural upgrades have taken place at most of the pre-schools, to accommodate the increased demand for Wi-Fi and internet connectivity.
The remaining schools will be upgraded by 2020, through the Smart School Initiative, he said.
Anatol Rodgers High School will also host a pilot programme for the use of tablets in high schools. However, no timeline was given for this aspect.