Parties pledge to tackle gangs

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Tackling the thorny topics of gang violence and drink-driving remain at the top of both political parties’ national security agenda in the run-up to the General Election.

Minister of National Security Senator Jeff Baron has said that positive steps have already been taken with the rolling out of Operation Ceasefire and a string of community engagement initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Labour Party spokesman for Public Safety, Zane DeSilva, told The Royal Gazette that the issue of gangs in Bermuda needed to be tackled “boldly and head on”.

The PLP has pledged to appoint a gang violence reduction co-ordinator to implement programmes to address violence and antisocial behaviour and also “provide financial support to Bermudians seeking a way out of gangs”.

Mr Baron pointed to the success of Gang Resistance Education and Training graduation initiative in schools and the StreetSafe team in the community as evidence of progress.

He said: “We have had three of the lowest annual crime levels since 2000 and, while achieving these numbers, the level of community engagement has never been as active.”

“Under the OBA we have seen a massive amount of successful engagement through the Great programme — which reaches about 600 to 700 students annually — and the StreetSafe team. There is also the work of the Inter-Agency Gang Taskforce, with trauma checklists that provides us with the ability to know where there are potential issues and deploy services immediately.

“Nearly $1 million has been passed on to charities as part of the Cash Back for Communities initiative and we will expand on that.

“The Royal Bermuda Regiment is another area where we have achieved success; many felt that getting rid of conscription would end the Regiment. This has proved not to be the case and in fact their role has been expanded during this term through the America’s Cup and into maritime operations.

“The work of the Emergency Measures Organisation is another area of achievement; we have reached out to more people through various social media channels to ensure the public have been kept informed on a raft of emergency situations.”

The PLP’s election platform says the party will identify and address the root causes of crime and gang activity and develop the island’s first National Crime Reduction Plan focused on prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration.

It will also decriminalise cannabis possession for amounts under 7g, so young people are not prevented from future opportunities due to non-violent drug possession.

Mr DeSilva added: “There has to be early intervention and early education; people are not born gangsters.

“The appointment of a co-ordinator is key to establishing a programme to tackle the island’s gang problem. Drugs are also a big problem in Bermuda and we know that gang violence and drugs are interconnected. We have got to be a little bit bolder in stamping out this problem.”

Mr Baron acknowledged that Government’s relationship with the Bermuda Police Service had been strained over its first term, but maintained that progress had been made in negotiations.

He said: “While we can talk about successes looking back in the rear-view mirror, we must continue to look through the windscreen; we want to see crime rates continue to fall and community engagement continue to rise.

“Bringing people together has to be first and foremost in our minds moving forward; our vision is grounded in our positive record, hard facts and the amount of community members involved in making Bermuda safer. It is not a hollow slogan.

“We will be announcing the appointment of a Bermudian to the position of Group Violence Intervention Co-ordinator very shortly. This is something that has been in the pipeline for some time and this person has been receiving training both in Bermuda and abroad.

“One of the first things people would see should the OBA be re-elected is the implementation of sobriety checks; it’s not a question of ‘if’ anymore, we are just finalising the kind of device that police will be armed with before it is rolled out.”

In its election platform the PLP also promised to implement sobriety checkpoints to tackle drink-driving.

Mr DeSilva said: “I would like to see this done yesterday. Sobriety checkpoints are crucial to tackling drink-driving.

“Establishing a sex offenders’ register is also something that I would support, although more work needs to be done to explore how it would work.

“In the field of public safety the PLP will be more in touch with the people and put a lot more effort in than the OBA.”

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