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Economic stresses driving ‘desperate’ to crime

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The lean post-Christmas period and the recession's lingering effects have contributed to the recent spike in robberies, according to a business owner affected by the crimes.

Six incidents have taken place over the past four weeks, including raids on Four Star in Warwick, KFC in Hamilton and Empire Grocery in Devonshire.

Marico Thomas, the president of Four Star, had warned such crimes would continue to plague the community when a knife-wielding thief escaped with $300 on Boxing Day.

Yesterday he reflected that, while he did not condone their actions, he understood why some people had turned to crime.

“There are those who do not feel that the recession has ended, and that can be a very frustrating message for the have-nots,” he told The Royal Gazette. “It can be very disheartening not being able to put food on the table, and that's a reality that some people have to live with.”

Referring to the early calendar months as “absolutely a more dangerous time of the year”, Mr Thomas said that people overextending their finances at Christmas could lead to “embarrassment mixed with desperation” the next month, when there was less money circling in the economy.

“There are those who want great things for their families, and sometimes they may go about it the wrong way,” he said.

“It's appropriate that the powers that be paint a very optimistic picture, but it's tough.

“There are those who are still living with what the recession did day-to-day.”

Interviewed shortly after his store was robbed, Mr Thomas told this newspaper: “This is a difficult time of year and I would encourage everyone to be vigilant. In January and February, when business is slow, people start looking for other means of income.”

Yesterday, criminologist Sheelagh Cooper, from the Coalition for the Protection of Children, suggested that the level of property crime within a society tended to correlate directly with its income disparity gap.

She said: “These types of crime are usually driven either by general economic stress, which is always heightened during and after Christmas, or it can reflect an increase in the use or cost of drugs, as many of those involved in this type of offence are drug-dependent.

“There is no question that the bottom third of the population, economically speaking, is under increased stress.

“So many are unemployed, marginally employed, or even employed full-time but receiving wages well below what they require to face the increasing cost of living.”

Gita Blakeney-Saltus, executive director of Smith's-based addiction charity Pathways Bermuda, echoed Mr Thomas's sentiment that an “alternative reality” existed for some of Bermuda's poorer residents.

“When people are feeling desperate, they start doing desperate things,” Ms Blakeney-Saltus said. “People are extraordinarily challenged right now economically, which is the undercurrent of it all.”

While pointing out that crime and addiction are not intrinsically linked, Ms Blakeney-Saltus said that the demands and excesses of Christmas could prove detrimental to addicts.

“The holidays put more pressure on people — there are people who are very stressed or very despondent during that period, as they're unable to meet all the demands,” she said. “We have people who are in pain, and they numb the pain and seek a distorted reality that gives them some comfort.

“People in Bermuda are definitely struggling. That's the real issue here.”

Armed robbery: a knife-wielding thief targeted the Empire Grocery Store in Devonshire (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Boxing Day raid: Four Star in Warwick (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Public warning: Marico Thomas, the owner of Four Star in Warwick, which was robbed on Boxing Day, said the early months of the year were “absolutely a more dangerous time” (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Income gaps: Sheelagh Cooper, of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, says many cannot meet the cost of living
Demands and excesses: Gita Blakeney Saltus, of Pathways Bermuda, says people are under a lot of pressure at Christmas. (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
<p>Robberies this year</p>

• January 3: A masked thief slipped through the back door of KFC at about 11pm and made off with cash.

• January 4: A 49-year-old man was threatened on Brunswick Street by a passer-by carrying a sharp object. The thief fled with an iPod and a gift certificate.

• January 12: A man attempted to rob Empire Grocery on North Shore Road, Devonshire, with a knife, before being struck by a customer and fleeing without any cash.

• January 14: A taxi driver was robbed at knife-point on South Road in Southampton, near the Gulfstream restaurant.

• January 17: A 65-year-old man was forced to the ground and robbed near his home in the area of North Hill, Pembroke.

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Published January 19, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated January 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm)

Economic stresses driving ‘desperate’ to crime

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