The government is awaiting a report from a security expert on certain measures to be taken, additionally, in respect of firearms, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament on Thursday.
He said the government will be installing scanners at the two main ports in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as the Argyle International Airport as part of its efforts to curb the influx of firearms into the country.
He said the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, including assault weapons, is a priority threat to citizen security in SVG and the rest of CARICOM.
“For our part in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Regional Security System (RSS), we are ramping up border security surveillance at sea and on land, especially at ports of entry,” he told lawmakers.
Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security, was delivering a ministerial statement on illicit firearms and related criminal activities in SVG.
He said he recently received a “security brief” prepared by a relevant authority on the subject-at-hand, which said, “Given the increasing damage being caused by the volume of firearms and related crimes within the region, strategies and policies on firearms should be revisited to identify and fill gaps.”
The prime minister quoted the brief as saying that the region has seen an increase in narcotics trafficking routes due to forced innovation in response to the pandemic, coupled with the resumption of pre-pandemic routes.
“Firearms remain a priority threat for CARICOM and the management of our porous borders as well as access to shared intelligence, are key factors in our endeavour to combat threats of this nature. There is, therefore, an increasing threat of CARICOM being used as a route to the United States via South America. It is feared that the Region may be perceived as a ‘soft touch’ and we must respond to this threat via proactive, reactive and intelligence-led operations – with a particular focus on border control,” he further quoted the brief as saying.
He noted that he met on Feb. 11 with the top leadership of the Royal SVG Police Force — officers of the ranks of assistant superintendent of police, and above, including Commissioner of Police, Colin John for an extensive discussion on the policing of serious crimes, including the matter of illegal firearms.
“Certain decisions were taken and an operational plan is being executed accordingly. I assure the citizens of our country that this is an issue of the highest priority for the government,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
“Daily, I’m in communication with the Commissioner of Police on this and related matters. I await, too, a report from a security expert on certain measures to be taken, additionally, in respect of firearms. Our enhanced coordinating efforts are proving fruitful.”
Gonsalves said that in this exercise, the security authorities are working in close collaboration with the RSS, the CARICOM Implementation Agency on Crime and Security (IMPACS), the Regional Fusion Intelligence Centre, the relevant security authorities of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, and INTERPOL.
“Indeed, the commissioner of police recently assured me that he has engaged the active support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in relation to a particular homicide. No stone must be left unturned in these respects. And I expect, and the country demands, the highest level of professionalism and commitment from our Police officers in the fight against crime, including the serious crime of homicide.”
SVG has recorded nine homicides so far this year, including two by police officers in the line of duty.
Last year, the country recorded a record 42 homicides, with arrests being made in ‘between 10 to 12” of them, according to the police chief.
The prime minister said that the nation demands too that the National Prosecution Service, magistrates and judges “rise to the challenges of citizen insecurity.
“The government is spending approximately $100 million annually on the security and law and order apparatuses of the State — including the Police, Coast Guard, Fire Service, Prisons, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Law Courts, the Financial Intelligence Unit, the National Commission on Crime Prevention, and the regional and international security agencies to which St. Vincent and the Grenadines belongs. To be sure, more resources are always required, but it cannot be said that the security and law and order apparatuses of the State are under-resourced for the tasks at hand,” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves presented to parliament “for information, … the sad painful tale of the murder rate per 100,000 population in 11 states of CARICOM for 2022, adding that this particular metric is not a unipolar indicator of citizen security.
Jamaica 1,498, homicides — 50 per 100,000; Trinidad and Tobago 605 — 43; St. Lucia 72 –39; St. Vincent and Grenadines 42 – 38; Bahamas 128 — 32; Belize 113 — 28; Dominica 17 — 24; Guyana 124 — 16; Barbados 43 — 15; Suriname 47 — 8; Grenada 8 — 7.
Gonsalves said he did not have the official data on Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis and had excluded Haiti from the tabulation “because it has an outlier status in this regard”.
He told Parliament that his ministerial statement focused specifically on illicit guns and related crimes.
“It is not an analysis of crimes, causes of crimes, and the overall strategic frame on tackling serious criminal activities.
He pointed out that in 2003 his government presented to Parliament its Fourteen-Point Strategy on Crime, which he said the government has updated on an on-going basis, including through legislation.
“And there are specific policies and programmes in each area of the overall strategy which are funded annually in the Estimates and the Appropriation Bill,” he said, adding that the matter was discussed extensively during the recent debates of the Estimates and Appropriation Bill for 2023.
The prime minister, however, made “seven salient observations”:
1. Most violent crimes are committed by young males.
2. Overwhelmingly, these young males are from homes with poor parenting or broken homes/families.
3. Overwhelmingly, these young males fail or refuse to take advantage of the educational and other opportunities available to them.
4. Overwhelmingly, these young males gravitate to “bad company” in communities or cohorts which exhibit a “culture of crime”, and join an associational group of crime.
5. By-and-large these young males embrace a fascination with guns and the sale of hard illegal drugs as a chosen way of life and living; often, guns and cocaine go together. Greed, personal insecurity, and a quest for distorted status as a gunman, are at play. “Macho man” behaviour fuels pre-disposing and inducing impulses to acquire guns and money, and to form associational groupings of other young men and young female company.
6. Young males who take advantage of educational and other opportunities, who become members of the Scouts Movement, the Cadet Force, the Police Youth Clubs, the steelbands, musical, entertainment and cultural groups, choirs and churches, community groups, sporting clubs and the like, hardly ever commit a serious crime of violence or even ever appear before a magistrate or judge.
7. Young males who turn to serious crime are a tiny minority of the overall youth male population. And the overwhelming majority of young males are law-abiding, productive, and good persons.
He said he hopes to make, “not too long from now” a ministerial statement “on the troubling issue of cyber security which is affecting the overall citizen security in this country”.