The Commissioner of Police today issued a detailed statement outlining the events of the past 5 days. The title is 5 shootings and 3 murders. Two of these killings were of entirely innocent victims – one appears to be targeted because it was known he would be in possession of a large sum of money and was in a remote location, the other abducted from the chance in the street, taken to an ATM and – having offered no resistance – killed. It is difficult to find the appropriate words to express sincere sympathy to those they leave behind nor to speak sufficient words of condemnation to those who have taken their lives.
One of the victims – shot dead in Mary Jane Lane – and we are awaiting official identification – was reportedly one of TCI’s most wanted men, himself wanted for a catalog of the most violent crimes. There had been a series of pre-planned police operations closing in on him, including, for example, the operation that involved a helicopter over Blue Hills on New Year’s Eve. He was considered extremely dangerous and the police from our tactical unit were ready to execute warrants, walking through the doors at night looking for him, thinking he would shoot them. It seems he was shot by like-minded individuals – by those he threatened, bullied or double-crossed – his chosen way of life catching up with him.
Along with his murder, 2 other youths were shot, but not killed, on Saturday and Sunday. Both were targeted attacks, no other crimes were involved, and police believe the two were attacked in an act of revenge. It is in the nature of these things that – without intervention – we can expect more retributive killings and so the cycle continues. A very small number of our young men – but a number that have a disproportionate impact on all of our lives – choose a life that ends up seeing themselves become a victim, just as they once made other victims. Given that they spend their lives evading the police, the police, by definition, won’t be there when their past catches up with them. The police will however be there to secure the crime scene where they fell.
This cannot be the future we want for our young men, who were once young boys with all the hope that childhood brings. Those who are currently involved in gang violence are someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend and it is this group – who know them best – who must either keep them away of this future, or if they find out they are involved, speak out early to literally save them from themselves and certainly to protect the innocent and the community whose lives they will ruin.
Two years ago, the public would hardly have believed that the perpetrators of these murders would be brought to justice. I now have great confidence that those who committed these murders will be identified and arrested. The police record of identifying and charging those involved in serious crimes changed at the start of last year. The drop in the murder rate in 2021 is directly attributable to this. It appears that those at HMP Grand Turk have now been replaced, and the police will now do exactly as they did in early 2021, and seek out, arrest and charge those who do so much harm.
This change is linked to a set of reforms currently underway – set out in the police strategic plan – and this change is underpinned by strong moral and financial support from this government and the last government, which ensure an annual growth funding to the Force which allows them to build and also from the UK which provides significant training and capability upgrades which allow them to modernise. The National Security Council allows the Prime Minister, the Commissioner and the Governor to work together and to increasingly involve other departments to begin to address the underlying causes of crime.
In addition to an overall growth in police manpower, with all recruits receiving 6 months residential training overseas, there has been significant recent growth in leadership, expertise and numbers within the criminal investigation department; the team responsible for collecting and preparing the evidence that leads to the conviction. There is also now a more targeted and better use of forensics.
The skills of the tactical unit have been greatly enhanced – their courage knows no bounds – and every night they are engaged in high-risk, intelligence-led armed operations. On this point, the development, training and growth of an intelligence unit – with considerable support from the UK – is already paying dividends. There is still growth to follow in numbers and technical capacity.
The police are also going back to basics in terms of community policing deployment. For example, the local Member of the House of Assembly’s early and constructive engagement with the police, over the past 5 days, a class act in terms of police and community representatives seeking to work together. Last Sunday, I was at the church with the superintendent in charge of community policing, alongside another local elected official, to launch a program – which was suggested by citizens – of active collaboration between pastors and the police in terms of community awareness.
Next week I will be in the UK to twin our force with the UK’s second largest police force, which will not only give us additional practical support, but also continuity of support. In this regard, the Commissioner and I had already commissioned an outside team to come and review the RTCIPF’s approach to serious crimes in order to ensure that the investments that have been and are being made are not only put to good use, but seek to replicate best practices. .
There is a leadership team in the Force leading by example – the Commissioner was personally at the scene of the crime last night and a series of promotions which reward those who actively engage in this program of change have been announced and will have an impact in terms of leadership throughout the Force.
I am witnessing more and more, firsthand, the motivation and commitment of our police – as individuals who live in the community that this violent crime threatens. During a similar period a few weeks ago, the police were, for example, involved in a full range of arrests ranging from pre-planned special police operations to off-duty officers apprehending an individual who had unloaded a weapon, going through the interception of a vehicle whose occupants were caught red-handed with stolen goods and weapons.
In the last 2 years, I have also witnessed a change in the approach of the public. We know more than before – some through formal intelligence work and some through whistleblowing by active and engaged citizens. The police now receive more information than before and this information – which is not admissible evidence in court – is proving invaluable. The police can now safely handle this information – hence the arrests that have been made – without any feedback on those who played their part.
The arrest of a 17-year-old with a gun a few weeks ago is emblematic of the problem. No matter how much we invest in policing, it’s a problem that just might happen again. Keeping our young men free from the influence of a small number of very bad men – bad men who must be identified, arrested and brought to justice – is something for which we can all take responsibility.
But at this particular time – if you have any information – no matter how small – no matter how irrelevant or unimportant you think it is – please call +1 800 8477 and tell the Crime Stopper Team in Miami anonymously Dade what you know. They will make sure that a secure unit of our police knows the facts, but not your identity, because they will not know and cannot find out. Since 1981 – and remembering that they cover a significant geographic area in Florida and the Caribbean – “Crime Stoppers” has received over 78,000 tips, which has resulted in over 11,000 arrests without a single compromise. If these figures are not reassuring and if you prefer, tell me, tell a police officer you trust, tell your pastor, tell your teacher or someone you know who has the integrity to do the right thing. But the key point is – if you have information – tell someone; you will save a life.