The New Today

Commentary

Nip this menace of crime in the bud now

The recent surge in criminal activity is not new to Grenada. There have been instances during the last fifty years when a surge in crime attempted to overshadow the peaceful and tranquil nature of the tri-island state.

The late 1970’s saw groups of criminals robbing businesses, sales vans, and community shops in St. George’s and across the island. One can’t forget the famous shootout between a group of criminals who attempted to rob a Frenchie store in town and a team of officers from the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) led by now deceased Cosmos Raymond, former Commissioner of Police.

However, the early 1980’s experienced a dramatic decline in criminal activities during the period of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) which adopted a zero tolerance approach to crime. Many criminals were forced to leave the island, and those who didn’t were jailed.

The murder rate during this period was no more than two or three murders annually and was either caused by domestic disputes or a crime of passion.

After the demise of the revolution, the mid to late eighties experienced a resurgence in criminal activity with a spate of robberies and other criminal activities highlighted by the nutmeg pool robbery.

This was driven by the availability of arms left over after the collapse of the revolution. However, criminals turned their focus on sending those weapons to neighbouring St. Vincent in exchange for marijuana.

The 1990’s experienced another surge in crime this time influenced by the crime and drug culture that had taken hold in neighbouring Trinidad.

During that period, the twin island Republic resorted to deportation of criminals from neighbouring countries such as Grenada. Many of those criminal elements deported attempted to carry over their violent ways and the gang culture to Grenada. This resulted in another spike in criminal activities and gang violence with the emergence of the Ginger and Bloods gangs in the late 1990’s.

This wave of criminal activity spilled over into the early two thousand and resulted in many fatalities and an increase in drug activities between Grenada and its neighbour’s Trinidad and St. Vincent.

The common denominator in the response to these past intermittent upsurge in criminal activity was that the police force had seasoned and competent officers who took the fight to the criminals and won.

The late Cosmos Raymond and his team of officers, which included top flight Detectives like Date, Romain, Reuben and recently deceased Inspector Henry led the fight that quelled the upsurge.

During the period of 1979-83, the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) would tolerate no such crime surge, and it was at that time many of the traditional ‘bad johns’ and other criminal elements were forced to flee the country for neighbouring islands, USA and UK.

The surge in crime in the late eighties was dampened by a team of competent officers led by Superintendent Cosmo Hosten to include then detective Inspector Anthony Joseph, Sergeants Mason, and Ruebin.

Later, promoted to Superintendent and then head of a legendary team of CID officers, Anthony Joseph was at the spearhead of a group of detectives which included the famous duo of “Donkey” (now deceased ASP Byron Clyne) and Felix along with detectives Earl Dunbar, Renaud and others who took the fight to the criminal elements who were bent on disrupting the peaceful tranquil nature of the tri-island state of Grenada.

The brilliant and innovative investigator Trevor Modeste would be promoted to lead the CID after the departure of Anthony Joseph. He led the CID until his promotion to the post of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) rank.

Superintendent Earl Dunbar then led the CID for a number of years. All these officers were part of the golden era of crime fighting. During that time, the force was led by strong and respected leadership including Commissioners Cosmos Raymond, Nestar Ogilvie, James Clarkson, and Bedeau.

Today, the force lacks sufficient capacity and operational tempo to take the fight to the criminals. Please don’t get me wrong, there are a few good investigators still in the force.

Current head of CID Superintendent Pierre, Superintendent Gill and ASP Hall who all came through the ranks under the tutelage of the legendary Anthony Joseph are capable and experienced crime fighters.

However, they need help with the limited capacity under their charge, a force driven by an eight to four culture where Supervisors, senior officers and Divisional Commanders go home after four and leaving just young officers to run stations and the force in the night.

In other words, there seems to be a total breakdown in supervision which has led to a lack of adherence to standard procedures, both administrative and operational. A senior police officer, friend of mine, from Trinidad, who recently visited Grenada on vacation, said to me he observed no supervisors, inspectors, and sergeants, out on the beat with junior officers.

He also said he observed places like Wall Street, around Junction, Saigon, and Options in True Blue, where crowds gather have very limited police presence either on foot or mobile patrol.

In addition to the breakdown of systems and procedures within the force, a crab in the barrel mentality and a partisan culture has crept into the force the result of intense political interference over a long period by the previous NNP government.

This has given rise to a partisan rift within the force along party lines and a tendency to bring news and pander to those with political power for promotion.

Political interference is not new to the force as successive governments have attempted to intervene in RGPF either through appointment of a preferred Commissioner or promotion of officers considered supportive of the party and government in power or in the case of the revolution insertion of officers in the Commission ranks.

However, the NNP took political interference to a new level to the extent it became so pervasive and corrosive that it damaged the organisation to its core.

The systemic breakdown and lack of adherence to procedures that resulted in the heinous acts committed on the American couple by the escaped sadistic criminals didn’t happen overnight as it had its origins in the intense politicisation of the police force over the decades by the NNP and the unfortunate incident was long in coming.

Notwithstanding this, the present Minister of National Security and his government must take some blame because of a failure to undertake a comprehensive reform of the police force since coming into office.

Instead, the new regime adopted an ill-advised Band-Aid approach that failed to address the root causes of the problems within the organisation.

Acting Commissioner of Police Don McKenzie is a decent and good person. However, having not worked in various critical departments in the force placed him at a disadvantage and he also played a bad hand by surrounding him with deputies who lack operational and tactical experience.

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ACP Curwen came through Prosecutions and Special Branch, ACP Connaught in Immigration and the Traffic department and Deputy Commissioner Prince in the SSU, as well as Logistics and Administration. None of the members of the RGPF High Command have serious experience in the area of Crime fighting and Operations, which is a serious weakness in the force.

According to a retired senior police officer, the recent incident with the three escaped prisoners started with a failure to get the cell gate fixed in a timely manner, the use of three rookie Constables just out of training school to man the desk of an important police station as South St. George situated in the tourist belt.

After it was found out that these dangerous, sick minded criminals, who were in a holding cell for alleged involvement in several serious criminal acts ranging from serial sexual violence, violent robberies and break-in, had escaped, the lack of operational and tactical experience in RGPF was laid bare.

The station should have immediately gone on lock down with all leave canceled. A proper profiling of the suspects would have suggested having been investigated for such serious crimes their inclination would be to leave the island.

The Coast Guard should have been immediately informed, and units sent to monitor the sea corridor between Grenada and Carriacou. The Coast Guard should have also informed mariners to be on the lookout for suspicious movement of yachts and other small crafts.

It is reported that the escapees did wave to guys on a fishing trawler on their way to St. Vincent who thought they were delivering a boat to an owner in one of the islands. At the same time, a massive land search should have been conducted by elements of the RRU and SSU focusing on coastal areas where they could obtain small craft to leave the island.

Listening to the Bubb Report on the incident long-standing yacthie Chris Doyle recounted a similar incident that took place thirty years ago where criminals broke into a yatch and raped one of the occupants.

He said the PRA, who was always present around areas where yachts moored, responded quickly after the alarm was raised to capture the suspects and prevent further harm to the occupants.

During that time, these suspects would have been considered ‘enemies of the state’ a term used by the PRA when criminal elements committed crimes that could have a negative impact on the economy, and dealt with severely.

Both escape incidents exposed the serious systemic breakdown within the police force, which this government must own and address immediately instead of appearing to bury its head in the sand as an ostrich.

To say that there is an epidemic of gun crimes across the Caribbean, and it is just time it spills over to Grenada or stay silent when a heinous crime, that attracted international attention, was committed in the jurisdiction of which you are the head of the executive branch is unbecoming of the responsibilities of the office.

As I said before, there were many canaries in a coal mine incidents that raised alarms bells such as the imposter in the police station, to repeated jailbreaks in that same station, way before this government came into office. In fact, there was glaring evidence of a dramatic decline in the police force during the reign of the NNP.

However, on coming into office, the government adopted a Band-Aid approach, which has now shown itself up as ineffective.

This approach is consistent with the way the government is addressing the systemic problems in the public service, which runs contrary to the required comprehensive reforms that are needed to address the underlying root causes.

The Minister of National Security should call for an independent investigation to determine the facts surrounding the jailbreak, identify accountable officers at each level and make recommendations to address the immediate systemic problems within police stations and the chain of command from divisional commanders to officers in charge of police stations.

The Minister should further reach out to bilateral and multilateral partners such as the British, Canadian and Australian governments and the US to obtain assistance to undertake a thorough review of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) and come up with a comprehensive program of reform initiatives that would be implemented over a period of two to four years.

The Minister should also seriously reconsider his national security team, among them is the national security advisor, and commit to getting more resources for the police and prison services.

It is high time that the government makes a serious effort to get a bilateral partner to assist in the building of a modern prison. The conditions in the current facility have become a breeding ground for hardened criminals.

In the immediate term, in order to address the present upsurge in crime, Commissioner Don McKenzie should look at setting up a criminal intelligence unit either within the Special Branch or at the CID to target and profile criminals, drug dealers and violence producers, areas of high crime and illicit drug activities and socially depressed environs that have conditions conducive for producing delinquency and dysfunctional behavior among youths.

The police should forge greater collaboration with the Ministries of Social and Community Development to provide assistance to young people in those depressed communities.

A crime suppression unit comprising officers from the SSU, RRU, Coast Guard, CID, and from high crime divisions should be set up to put pressure on criminals, drug dealers and violence producers in high crime areas.

There should also be efforts to bring a senior officer with serious operational experience into the High Command.

The government and RGPF must act now to nip this festering sore that is crime if the current upsurge is to be suppressed, as was the case in the past.

The RGPF must take the fight to the criminals in the same manner that now deceased Commissioner Cosmos Raymond, retired Commissioner James Clarkson, retired Assistant Commissioner Trevor Modeste, retired Supts Anthony Joseph, Hosten and Dunbar took the fight to the criminals.

In order for this to happen Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell must give the RGPF more resources, including larger patrol boats, radar systems, and drone technology to allow the force to effectively respond to the current situation.

Commissioner Don McKenzie, in turn, must make the institutional adjustments, increase the operational tempo of the force, and give Superintendents Pierre and ASP Hall the resources they need to take the fight to the criminals.

Crime is a clear and present danger to the tranquil and peaceful nature of our society, for which we are well known in the region and international community.

The Prime Minister and Don McKenzie must act now to nip this menace in the bud.

Special Correspondent