Perinchief reflects on five months back as National Security Minister
A violent death was the catalyst for Wayne Perinchief’s return to Cabinet and it couldn’t have provided a more graphic example of the daunting task he was being asked to accept.
Mr Perinchief agreed to become National Security Minister days after the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Randy Robinson in Devonshire on March 31.
Premier Paula Cox’s decision to call the Police Commissioner directly about Mr Robinson’s murder, the third of 2011, prompted Mr Perinchief’s predecessor David Burch to resign as he felt disrespected.
Deputy Speaker and Progressive Labour Party MP Mr Perinchief was asked to take on the brief and was sworn-in as Minister on April 4, telling the media: “I’m happy to fill the breach.”
Within a month, two more men were dead: David Clarke, 26, was fatally shot on April 17 on the edge of Mr Perinchief’s Pembroke Central constituency, while Jason Smith was gunned down in the constituency on May 1.
Mr Smith, 22, was the 16th man to be shot dead in Bermuda in less than two years; there has not been another gun murder since.
The new Minister told the House of Assembly on May 13 that the community was right to look first to Government for solutions to the “violence and manifested anger” blighting the “idyllic setting of this paradise we call home”.
But he added: “It would be wrong of me and it would be wrong of this honourable House to pretend that we can legislate ourselves out of this period of violence and gun crime in particular. Passing legislation is only one of the means by which to deal with these issues.”
Mr Perinchief, during an interview with
The Royal Gazette for our series on the Island’s unsolved gang murders, said he had seen a recent shift in the public’s reaction to gun violence.
“I see the public now pushing back against criminal behaviour. I have had mothers come and sit with me and tell me how they feel about their own son’s behaviour and other people surrounding their sons.
“A lot of mothers are now working with their sons to get them out of gang-like behaviour and seeking assistance from the Government and other helping agencies to do that.”
Part of that shift, he said, has been evident in the number of people coming forward to share knowledge of criminal behaviour with police and being prepared to give evidence in court.
That happened, according to the Minister, even before the witness protection programme that came into force on April 1 and allows for the relocation of witnesses overseas.
“Lately, I have seen people have courageously given evidence and been supported by the community in doing that. We have had some recent cases where people have come forward without this witness protection and there have been successful prosecutions.”
He cited the three murder convictions in Supreme Court for the deaths of Kumi Harford, Raymond (Yankee) Rawlins and Dekimo Martin as positive examples of police and the public working together.
And he said he was optimistic that the locking up of certain gangsters for lengthy stretches would give other potential witnesses who fear repercussions the courage to come forward with information on unsolved shootings.
“The public will stand strong and support justice and the administration of justice,” he said. “Hypothetically, in some instances, the threat can be mitigated by a conviction. After conviction, if the person’s sentence is long enough, then the threat level should decrease.”
The new witness protection programme is run by the Department of Public Prosecutions and police and Mr Perinchief said: “I’m at arm’s length from it. I really do not have that knowledge and do not want to acquire that information myself.”
He added: “It’s truly a secretive programme and it seems to be working effectively.”
The Minister said he could see Bermuda moving to a system, as in some other jurisdictions, where vulnerable witnesses in certain kinds of trials give evidence “in camera”.
“The facilities are already there for juveniles, especially in cases of sexual abuse,” he said. “I think we need to perfect the way it’s done, either through video streaming or otherwise. The person doesn’t necessarily have to be sitting in court.”
Critics claim such measures erode the principles of open justice and can lead to unfair trials, particularly if witnesses are not cross-examined.
But Mr Perinchief said cross-examination could still be done by video link and it wasn’t always necessary for a jury to see a witness’s demeanour and body language in person to prove credibility.
He said he was impressed with the police’s efforts to tackle gun crime and confident they would crack the unsolved murder cases.
“I’m happy with the police and their ability to solve these crimes,” said the former Assistant Police Commissioner, adding that they now had the “powerful” tool of a DNA database.
“It’s something I would have wished to have back when I was doing investigations, where everything was literally driven by handwritten statements, referencing and cross-referencing; it was incredibly tedious,” he said. “That’s why the police have been so successful with such a volume of cases and keeping them on track. I want to applaud them and congratulate them for doing that.”
He said he wanted to see more community policing, of the kind he used to practise when he was a bobby on the beat.
“I’m pushing now for the reintroduction of policemen to go and knock on doors, sit down and have coffee with people. It’s the way that people interface with the police. You don’t just go and ask for information when there’s a crime. The police should be sitting down having coffee, leaning over the neighbourhood fence while the lady is hanging up the washing.
“It should be all the time. It should be systematic. That’s true community beat policing. If the police get back there, then a lot of the problems with the gangs will disappear over time.”
The Minister said he believed a small number of people were involved with gun violence and the perpetrators lay “within a certain group”.
“We can’t have that many people who are bent on murder and mayhem,” he said. “These people are of a certain mindset and obviously have some connections.
“I think the driving forces behind all of them are drugs, money and territory. There’s a certain level of confidence that the security of the entire Country is not being compromised. It’s contained because of people’s co-relationships.
“We have heard the phrase ‘they [police] know who they are’. That gives you another feeling of security, that eventually they will get the missing links to solve all of these murders.”
One agency he believes could be crucial in helping is Crime Stoppers, a charity he set up here in the early 1990s after crack cocaine arrived on the Island and sparked an upsurge in crime. “That really launched then the need for a programme like Crime Stoppers,” he said. “The time was right for people to step up to the plate.”
He’s a firm believer in the need for people to be able to share information anonymously and came up with the idea for Crime Stopper’s latest “Money for Guns” campaign.
“Eventually, all the links will fall in place,” he said of the unsolved murders. “It’s like, you have a crossword puzzle. You think you’ll never solve this and you get where you just need one piece and you have solved the puzzle.”
Useful websites: www.crimestoppers.bm, www.bps.bm, www.gov.bm.