For far too long the persistent cycle of violence and crime has been a dark cloud over our nation.
Each act of violence is a stark reminder of the urgent work that lies ahead. The stories of families shattered, dreams unfulfilled, and communities living in fear are not just news items; they are heartbreaking realities that I, as your Prime Minister, carry with me every day. These are not just statistics; they are our children, our friends, our future.
Today I am tabling our government’s strategy called Crackdown 2024: Building Safer Communities.
My Government’s plan addresses full on the harsh realities we face. It is bold and unflinching. It is grounded in the certain knowledge that the security of our citizens is our number one responsibility.
We recognise that the roots of criminality are deep and tangled. They stem from social, economic, and cultural factors. Our response, therefore, is likewise multifaceted and robust, addressing each of these aspects with the seriousness they deserve.
The Five Pillars Strategy – Prevention, Policing, Prosecution, Punishment, and Rehabilitation – forms the backbone of our approach.
It covers the full lifecycle of criminal behaviour. To truly combat crime, we must not only enforce the law, but also address the underlying causes that lead individuals down the path of criminality.
In line with our commitment to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure justice, today I am also announcing a significant amendment to the Bail Act. Bail is a constitutional right, but not a right to be abused. There is a fundamental right to be presumed innocent, but the liberty that accompanies that presumption is not absolute, especially when someone poses a danger to society and themselves.
Our amendment will ensure that bail is automatically revoked for those accused persons who commit offence while on bail. This includes those found to be in violation ofthe terms of their bail, which is an offense under the amendment. This measure sends a clear message: our legal system will no longer tolerate those who flout its rules and endanger our communities.
Overall, our comprehensive plan is at the heart of a bold determination by my Government to combat the scourge of crime, which has long plagued our society.
We are expanding school policing, placing more trained officers in schools to foster positive relationships with students. This initiative aims not only to ensure safety but also to engage in early prevention, detection, and intervention of criminal activities among the youth.
Our “Clear, Hold, and Build Strategy” is a robust approach to dismantling gang presence in our neighborhoods. This phased strategy is focused on rooting out gang elements, securing these areas, and then investing in community development to prevent the re-emergence of such elements.
To deter crime in high-risk areas, we are significantly increasing police presence through expanded saturation patrols. This heightened visibility of law enforcement is a direct response to the community’s call for increased security.
In our technological front, we are introducing advanced facial recognition CCTV systems. These state-of-the-art surveillance tools will greatly enhance our crime detection and prevention capabilities.
Recognizing that crime is not just a local issue, we are also strengthening regional cooperation in our fight against drug trafficking and illegal arms trade. By working closely with our neighboring countries, we aim to tackle these cross-border issues more effectively.
Community policing is another crucial aspect of our strategy. By building strong community ties, we aim to improve relationships and aid intelligence gathering. This approach is pivotal in understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by different communities.
We are also investing in communication centers, enhancing witness support, and utilizing unexplained wealth orders to target the financial underpinnings of criminal activities. Each of these initiatives is designed to disrupt the various facets of criminal operations.
Furthermore, our focus on bolstering the Confidential Informant Fund and constructing a National Forensic Laboratory will enhance our investigative capabilities.
In addressing gang involvement and illegal firearms possession, we are evaluating and strengthening our legal framework to ensure that penalties are sufficiently stringent to act as effective deterrents.
By enhancing our strategy against crime, we are building upon a series of robust measures already in place. These include significant recruitment efforts to bolster our police force, the implementation of targeted saturation patrols, and the acquisition of advanced resources to aid our law enforcement. Furthermore, we have established specialized units, notably the Anti-Gang and Gun Unit and the Domestic Violence Unit, to tackle specific aspects of crime that pose a serious threat to our society. This approach is a strategic advancement and leverages the progress we’ve already made.
We are fully determined to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
While we are making every effort to unite Bahamians in a ‘Whole-of-Government’ and ‘Whole-of-Society’ assault on crime, I feel obliged to bring to the attention of the House, a recent incident, which reflected extremely poorly on the judgement one of our Honourable Members.
As was widely broadcast in the media, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition accused the Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force of being, and I quote, “a liar”.
I am sure that I am not alone when I describe to the House the shock and embarrassment I felt, to hear an Honourable Member attack the Commissioner of Police in such terms.
What made the attack even more egregious, was the fact that it stemmed from the fact that the Honourable Gentleman was merely ignorant of the details concerning a police investigation, an investigation in which the Honourable Member may likely be a person of interest, given the public utterances of the complainant.
Calling someone a liar is not language permitted in this House, because it is an affront to the implied integrity of everyone here.
The same is true of other constitutionally recognized positions. Such an attack ought to be beneath the dignity of Honourable Members.
One would also think that the Honourable Gentleman would show more prudence, as, in making such an accusation in the media, he also exposes himself to a prosecution for criminal libel.
At a time when we are urging Bahamians to join together in the fight against crime, and to support the police on the frontline of the battle, the Honourable Gentleman chooses to undermine the integrity of the person at the front of the battle.
It beggars belief.
While the Commissioner has rightly maintained a dignified silence on the matter, it is therefore left to us to cry “shame” on his behalf.
The Commissioner has dedicated a lifetime of service to this country.
He has achieved high office through dedicated excellence.
He has sacrificed much, and has himself been the victim of crime when he was shot and injured by an intruder.
He has weathered with dignity and grace, many storms in the past, several under the previous administration.
It should go without saying that each of us ought to be part of the effort to support the work of the brave men and women of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Every day, they are the ones who put themselves in potentially life-threatening danger on our behalf.
If we have questions, or challenges for them, each of us is privileged enough to be able to pick up the phone and call.
I have every confidence that a courteous and truthful response would be forthcoming.
The Commissioner deserves better.
The ladies and gentlemen who serve in the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and all our armed services, deserve better.
I therefore invite the Honourable Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, to do the decent thing and apologize.
In the wider fight against crime in which all right-thinking people are engaged, The Leader of the Opposition, also appears to straddle a line of contradiction.
On one hand, there are claims of ‘not playing politics’. Yet on the other hand, there appears to be a concerted effort to lead a series of political protests.
You cannot have it both ways.
Apart from the futility of these knee-jerk reactions, why add to the workload of an already heavily-stretched police force? What message will criminals receive when they see such grossly irresponsible grand-standing? Why should they take seriously our efforts to join everyone in a ‘whole-of-society’ fight against crime?
The Leader of the Opposition and all who may doubt our commitment, should take heed: this is not a time for political gamesmanship.
Our nation is at a critical juncture. This moment demands of us a unity of purpose and action. I will not rest, nor will my government, until we have turned the tide on crime and violence. This is our pledge to every citizen who looks to us for protection and peace.
The window is swiftly closing for those who choose terror and violence. We are already intensifying our efforts to ensure that houses, cars, and every conceivable place of refuge, are no longer safe for criminal behaviour. And to those harbouring these agents of chaos and destruction, be warned: you, too, will find yourselves on the wrong side of the law.
We stand united, as one Bahamas, against the forces that seek to undermine our peace and prosperity.
While the government, police, and judicial system bear a significant responsibility in this fight against crime, so too does each and every parent, guardian, sibling, friend, and neighbour. We are all the protectors of our nation’s children and future. When you see something say something. Speaking up is not “snitching”, it may well be what saves your life or the lives of your children. I shudder to think how many lives, innocent lives, we might have saved, had someone spoken up, sought help, or intervened sooner.
True and lasting progress requires the active participation of every citizen who yearns for a safer Bahamas. We need individuals and communities to step up, to become part of the transformative change we are striving for.
This is not about assigning blame or delivering lectures; it’s about envisioning and building the kind of communities and country we all want to live in.
This is the only country we have, and we will do whatever is necessary to protect it. This is a fight we must win.