Force being restructured to tackle crime situation – PM
September 28, 2007

Force being restructured to tackle crime situation – PM

by Nelson A. King in New York 28.SEP.07

While noting that there is “no simple answer” in fully tackling the crime situation in the country, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has told nationals here and those at home that the police constabulary is being restructured to better address the issue.{{more}}

Addressing a well-attended town hall meeting Monday night at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Gonsalves said the police’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) will be expanded in helping to curb the “unusual number of killings” this year.

“They are one of the few groups of police officers whom criminal elements are afraid of,” he said in his two-hour-long address, which was broadcast live on local radio, disclosing that, effective January next year, the size of the RRU will be doubled.

He said two new units will be established in the Owia/Fancy area in North Windward and the town of Chateaubelair in North Leeward in augmenting those in Prospects and Layou.

“We’re increasing the number of the police officers, we’re training the police officers better,” said Dr. Gonsalves, flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker; members of the New York diplomatic and consular corps; and UN Ambassador-designate Camillo Gonsalves, his son.

“We’re equipping the police force better; we’re building better police stations; we’re providing them with transportation, which they didn’t have before in the way in which they have them now,” he added.

Dr. Gonsalves dispelled the notion that increased killings are related to poverty, stating that they are a result of “greed,” conducted primarily by drug dealers.

He said most of the guns in the country clearly come from the United States, its neighbour, where the constitution gives citizens “the right to bear arms.”

“That’s a problem,” he said, alluding to increased firearms in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“And when you’re addressing the matter with drugs and you have these guns, and people are greedy, you get a combustible situation,” he added.

In addition, the Vincentian leader said criminal deportees, particularly from the United States, have significantly contributed to the crime situation.

“Then, there is a veritable trade union of criminals across the region,” he said. “And that is why we are cooperating on intelligence matters much better with our regional colleagues.”

But Dr. Gonsalves said the issue must be addressed “on a long-term basis, because we need to be able to make sure that our young people are schooled in values, which keep them away from criminal conduct.”

He said the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration has increased the penalty for possession of illegal firearms, from the previous one year incarceration to seven years.

But he blamed some magistrates for inconsistencies in sentencing these offenders, noting that one magistrate, for instance, may impose a $1,000 fine, whereas others may impose a year or three-year sentence.

Dr. Gonsalves said his government is “putting a lot of resources” into the National Commission on Crime Prevention, working closely with the Patrick Manning administration in Trinidad and Tobago, and “building up” the local Coast Guard in endeavoring to rid the country of crime.

“So I give you the policing things, which we’re doing – the commendable work,” he said.

“But there are also issues of a social kind, which gets down to families,” he added. “And that is a matter which we have to struggle with in an on-going basis.

“It’s the same problem you have, though of a different scale – a far worse scale – in some of the inner cities in the United States of America,” he continued.

The prime minister, who is here, primarily to attend the United Nations General Assembly debate, also touched on a number of issues, such as construction of the international airport and other infrastructural developments; economic growth; continued diplomatic relations with Taiwan; and changes in the diplomatic missions in the United States.

He said with the appointment of Ellsworth John, the ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States, to his office, to head a new unit – Regional Integration and Diaspora Office – a “special programme” will be devised to specifically address issues in the Diaspora.

Dr. Gonsalves said it is his government’s new policy not to keep an envoy in an overseas mission for more than four or five consecutive years.

“We do so because we want to build a core of professional diplomats who we can rotate, and who we can assign to other duties,” he said.

In his brief, maiden address to nationals here, Camillo Gonsalves, a lawyer, who was well-received, said he will work closely with New York Consul General Cosmus Cozier in addressing Diasporic issues.

The younger Gonsalves will replace another lawyer, Margaret Hughes-Ferrari, as UN ambassador, who, after serving for six years, is being recalled.

“These are very, very exciting times in the country; very, very exciting times in the United Nations; very, very exciting times in the world,” he said.

“And I’m grateful to play whatever small part that I may play in assisting St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the people here to move forward,” he added, evoking resounding applause.