Minister on gang violence: We were ‘caught flat-footed’

  • Wayne Perinchief

    Wayne Perinchief

  • The Entrance to the Westgate correctional Facility in Dockyard
Photo David Skinner

    The Entrance to the Westgate correctional Facility in Dockyard Photo David Skinner

Asked to assess how the crime situation has changed since the last election, Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief was characteristically blunt.

“It’s the escalation of gang violence and use of guns, which became topical in 2009. In 2010 when I took over here it was on the boil. We were getting one murder a month and a couple of shootings in between,” he said.

The Minister admitted: “We have been caught flat-footed. I would not even try to say that we anticipated anything like this.

“They are all looking in the rear view mirror now but with all due respect to people’s opinion, we have never been faced with anything like this.”

Since the spring of 2009 there have been more than 300 shootings, which left more than 70 people injured and 20 men dead.

Eleven of the cases remain unsolved. Charges are pending in five of them.

There have been convictions in three cases and one case has been closed following not guilty verdicts (see timeline).

The Government has come under fire from the Opposition and members of the public who feel more could have been done to stem the tide of violence.

Among the critics are two grieving parents who lost their sons before the upswing in gun and gang crime and were horrified to watch it escalate.

Danny Crockwell’s son Shaki was shot dead August 2007 over a drug debt. Mr Crockwell also lost his nephew, Lorenzo Stovell, to another shooting in Sandys in September 2010.

He believes that detectives brought in from England to work on cold cases helped bring his son’s killer, Derek Spalding, to justice earlier this year. Spalding was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 38 years in jail.

Mr Crockwell believes overseas officers could be the key to solving other killings, including that of his nephew.

“If they can find who did that I think my family would have more trust in the police.

“What they need to do is bring some police down here from England that people don’t know and do what they need to do,” he said.

“Our police are easy. They should have these guys come down who don’t know them and kick your door down.

“They do it for drugs and they can do it for guns. Everybody knows who the police are. They brought police down for Shaki’s case, but they sent them back.”

He also wants to see an Operation Cleansweep-style crackdown to take guns off the street involving regular raids and searches.

“We need to get Bermuda back the way it used to be; not guns, killing people, making people go through all these things,” he said.

“All those that have been killing I would like to see them sent away to a prison overseas. Westgate is a hotel. I’m talking about anyone locked up for murder.”

Meanwhile, he feels that a lack of recreational facilities and job opportunities are also hampering the fight against crime.

Mr Crockwell, from the Middletown area of Pembroke said: “They’ve promised us a playground down here for years but we haven’t seen that yet. A lot of things get promised at election time. If the children can play on the street we would know where they were.”

Marsha Jones, whose son Shaundae was shot dead in Dockyard in April 2003, agrees with Mr Crockwell that along with a crackdown on gun crime, there must be a focus on solving unsolved cases like that of her son.

“We don’t want it to continue so others are suffering the way we are, but at the same time we want closure for what’s happening to us,” she said.

She also called for tougher sentences for those convicted of violent crimes.

“I would like to see sentences for multiple offences imposed consecutively rather than concurrently. They should be held accountable for each crime that they commit,” she said.

“Maybe that would make them think twice about committing a crime.

“Some of them are so young. If they are 19 or 20 then three years in jail isn’t too much to them.”

She would also like to see officers brought in from overseas such as the team led by John Hendley, an experienced officer who helped Bermuda Police Service until his role was axed in the 2011 budget.

“I was heartbroken when John Hendley left because I think that he was making a difference because he came here to do a job.

“He didn’t have family to be concerned about and he didn’t have the everyday occurrences of being Bermudian.

“He was just here to do a job and stick to his guns and get it done,” she said.

“I think he made a difference. I had a very good rapport with him and I felt justice would prevail.

“Once he left and took his team with him, I felt deflated. All that hope was gone. I think the officers here have got too much on their plates.

“Crime is happening so fast it’s hard to keep up. I feel an outsider looking at it would have a different twist on things and get some of these cases resolved.”

Ms Jones also believes that intervention work with young people is important before they get sucked into the gang lifestyle.

Jeff Baron, the National Security Spokesperson for the One Bermuda Alliance, shares the parents’ concerns over whether the prison is tough enough.

“If we view Westgate as a deterrent, these offenders are going to weigh up the risk versus the reward a bit more carefully.

“Unfortunately, the sub culture of gangs says Westgate is secondary education to advance their craft. Spending two to four years in Westgate is necessary to enhance their status in the gangs,” he said.

He added that calls to send prisoners overseas make a “legitimate argument, but before we start to look at shipping people overseas we need to see how best we can reform our local correctional facilities to make sure it’s a rehabilitation experience and a deterrent for someone who could be swayed”.

He also agreed with Ms Jones’ concern over the length of sentences.

“That sentiment is heard on the doorsteps, particularly in Pembroke South East where I’m a candidate,” he said.

“It’s a legitimate sentiment to have, which requires some consensus-building within our criminal justice system.

“When we see someone go to jail for four years for a violent crime and 14 years for possession of cannabis, there’s something wrong with that.”

Asked about calls for a crackdown to take guns off the street, Mr Baron said that must be enhanced by an Operation Ceasefire approach to win the hearts and minds of those engaged in the gang lifestyle (see section on the parties’ manifestos).

He feels that social engagement with the problem will make a difference.

“That’s when we will see lasting and meaningful crime reduction.”

Mr Baron feels that too much heavy-handed policing such as stop and searches could thwart efforts by law enforcers to engage with young Bermudians.

As for the idea of bringing in more police from overseas, he said: “Because of its global nature, the OBA believes in investing in the capacity of strong and capable international partners to help manage this complex social problem.

“However, our primary focus is strengthening our Bermudian institutions. The OBA will continue to pursue — and begin to fully fund — programmes and strategies that expand the capacity of our local officers.

“Our strategic approach towards national security begins with our commitment to building a strong foundation for Bermudian leadership.

“This starts with giving the police the funds to develop their three-year strategic plan. No budget cutbacks.”

Minister of National Security Mr Perinchief defended the way he and the Government responded to the gang and gun violence crisis.

“My strategy was to get the right legislative framework in place so that the police could take advantage of the resources that they had.

“They were a bit hamstrung to a certain degree by legislation that wasn’t quite adequate to face the gang problem,” he said.

He added that controversial new stop and search powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which allow officers to stop vehicles and people entering a particular area if it is viewed as a hot spot, were “a Godsend as far as policing was concerned” and have prevented criminals carrying weapons around the Island.

“In one particular incident, where police stopped and searched a vehicle that sped off at Southampton Rangers, it was found that the guy had a firearm,” he noted.

He also hit back at criticisms that steps have not been implemented fast enough to introduce a US-style Operation Ceasefire, which uses a “carrot-and-stick” approach through law enforcement and community work to combat gangs.

He pointed out that Government representatives visited Boston and New York to research the culture and causes of gangs.

He also had talks with Michael Dunkley and Kim Swan from the Opposition after they first suggested Operation Ceasefire and told them he was prepared to look at it.

“We can’t allow politics to be a barrier to us dealing with the issue,” he said.

Mr Perinchief said the process of implementing Ceasefire “is in train now”, but it has been hard to implement the aspect called “Street Safe” which involves community workers reaching out to gang members.

In Boston, this aspect is operated by a non-profit organisation, but there was a “stumbling block” in Bermuda.

Although the Ministry brought trainers down from Boston to train around 30 people, the efforts have not got off the ground locally “as there was no non-profit organisation that was willing to simply set up and formulate this Street Safe programme or carry it through”.

Mr Perinchief said: “We haven’t gotten the buy-in from the donor community.

“Nevertheless, there is a reorganisation whereby the Ministry of Social Services under Glenn Blakeney is in the process of introducing it.

“Under the new Ministry, it should get some traction. Some of the money [to fund it] will come from proceeds of crime. It will not be taxpayers’ money, so that’s a good thing.”

Responding to calls for tougher sentences and a tougher prison regime, Mr Perinchief said: “We have never before in our history had so many people incarcerated for murders and violent crimes.

“I do know that there’s a prison review going on and there may well be a lot of strategies that have been suggested by people being implemented going forward.”

The Minister noted that outside the prison walls, the police, parole and probation services worked together on Operation Nightlight to enforce probation and parole rules during the hours of darkness.

“That was enhanced by us introducing electronic tagging to ensure that we were able to monitor the movements of criminals once they were on bail or convicted,” he said.

He said that overseas police officers are still assisting local police with unsolved crimes — there are currently four retired British officers assisting two Bermudians with current investigations and cold cases.

“That team will stay in place,” he said.

According to Mr Perinchief, police Community Action Teams, Crime Stoppers, neighbourhood watches, a new X-ray machine at Hamilton Docks and a reorganisation of border controls are all helping crack down on crime.

Asked about calls for an Operation Cleansweep-style operation to tackle gun offenders, he said the rules about searching people and premises are “very stringent” and “while it may seem expedient and pragmatic to take that type of approach to policing — and it has been implemented in some other jurisdictions like the Caribbean islands — the backlash here would be such that I believe the police would be extremely unpopular and I don’t think we want that,” Mr Perinchief said.

“At the end of this process — and I do believe that it’s abating — we don’t want to have the community looking at the police as being oppressive or going over the top.”

Overall, he said, “I’m happier now after two years in the post that the security of Bermuda is in very good hands.”

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Published Dec 11, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 10, 2012 at 11:49 pm)

Minister on gang violence: We were ‘caught flat-footed’

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