Senator Dunkley: “Totally Inadequate Response”

April 7, 2010

Calling the Government announcement concerning measures that will be taken to combat the wave of shootings, “totally inadequate“, Shadow Minister of Public Safety Michael Dunkley says the “government has been soft on crime and, as a result, gangs have had the room to flourish“.

Following a six hour emergency meeting of Cabinet, Premier Dr Ewart Brown mentioned three main points the Government will look into; transferring prisoners overseas, stronger police bail, as well as a possible change in laws.

The meeting followed what some locals are already calling the “Easter Massacre”; a holiday weekend which saw a man shot dead at a kite flying event in front of his children on Good Friday, an 18 year old shot with his 19 year old friend stabbed at a reggae party on Easter Sunday, and a 17 year old girl and 39 year old man shot in what appears to be a random driveby.

Senator Dunkley went on to say that “this has been the pattern: a shocking crime followed by high-level meetings, strong words, ‘get-tough’ action plans and then, nothing.”

The full statement follows below:

The United Bermuda Party is deeply concerned in the face of society-shattering gun violence that this government does not appear to have a plan to combat the problem.

After a long weekend bracketed by a Good Friday murder and an Easter Sunday shooting that left a 17-year-old girl with four bullet wounds, the Government emerged from an emergency meeting vowing to study its existing powers to prosecute and incarcerate. This is a totally inadequate response.

We will take the Government at their word that good Police work will soon be revealed, but note the public has little confidence because it has seen nothing but escalating gun activity over the past two years. In addition, we are concerned the government does not have the slightest idea how to stop the shooting and break down the structures that support gangs.

This is a crisis that has been festering and growing for years. And in the face of it, we are reminded that today’s emergency Cabinet meeting was not the first to be held in the shadow of violence.

In 2008 following two murders the Premier emerged from a meeting saying Bermuda would get a SWAT team, but his words went nowhere. A minister was widely quoted saying the government had had ‘enough’. This has been the pattern: a shocking crime followed by high-level meetings, strong words, ‘get-tough’ action plans and then, nothing.

It is our earnest hope that this hollow pattern is broken. Our way of life depends on it. As our Shadow Finance Minister E.T. (Bob) Richards said in his recent Reply to the Budget: gun violence “poses the most immediate and greatest threat” to the people of Bermuda.

The unfortunate fact is that this government has been soft on crime and, as a result, gangs have had the room to flourish. In 2007, we told the people that Bermuda needed strong measures to counter growing violence. The island had been experiencing some of the highest incidences of violent crime on record. The Government campaigned vociferously against our position sending, we believe, the wrong signals to the community. Since then, as crime worsened and gangs emboldened, it has backtracked to express support for ideas we’ve expressed albeit without any meaningful action.

People have every reason to question this Government’s fitness to fight crime. It spent the better part of two years trying to say it had no say in how crime should be fought; passing the buck to the Governor. Only when the crime situation continued to get worse and the public demanded an end to the politics did it make an effort to make the relationship work.

Our concerns about Government weakness in fighting crime was underscored this afternoon on two counts when:

The Premier suggested community “pushback” killed his SWAT team plan. His words provided a disturbing insight: If a SWAT team was the deemed to be the right thing for Bermuda at the time, then he should have made sure it was done. This was a leadership moment and the Premier shied from it.

The announcement to look into the transfer of prisoners overseas. This was an idea floated by the government months ago, which makes us ask about progress since then or was it one more announcement that went nowhere.

The United Bermuda Party has been consistent with its concerns about escalating crime and we remain deeply frustrated to see this government stand motionless in the face of it.

Strategically, our programme calls for the establishment of a regime that enables ‘better detection of crime, more effective prosecution and enhanced rehabilitation to reduce re-offending.’

We have called on the government to give the Police total budget support, for training to increase the number of senior investigating officers, for manpower to maintain a 24/7 presence on the streets and for a re-start community policing. More specifically we have called for the budget to provide a new computer system to replace the antiquated system currently in use. This would go a long way to helping Police better manage deployments, track criminal activity and respond to incidents. We consider this an essential tool for more effective policing.

We have called for anti-gang legislation and for a peace summit to at least get a dialogue going with gangs to broaden understandings.

We have called for reform of the criminal justice system; with measures to strengthen the Department of Public Prosecutions to a complete review of sentencing policies to include minimum sentences for people convicted of murder and manslaughter, statutory periods of preventive detention for repeat offenders, removal of the rule against double jeopardy and increased penalties for repeat offenders.

Our programme and recommendations are too extensive to fully recount here, but needless to say there is much that can be done to improve the current situation. Ultimately, it’s down to leadership and commitment. This has been missing

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