Commissioner on gangs: ‘We can’t police our way out of this problem’
Gang violence has increased dramatically in the past ten years despite the best efforts of law enforcement agencies, according to the Commissioner of Police.
Darrin Simons said that the problem will never be resolved by policing alone, and that other issues such as social and economic factors needed to be addressed.
At a public meeting on community violence on Tuesday, Mr Simons said that the Bermuda Police Service was doing a sterling job, but added: “We can’t police our way out of this problem.”
Noting that the BPS had made 45,000 arrests since 2008 and had solved 46 murders since 2009, Mr Simons said: “The BPS is out there doing it. We could always do better, we could always do more, but we’re out there doing it in terms of a law enforcement perspective.
“The people we were targeting in 2010 are not at all the same people we’re dealing with today. From all that effort over the years, what we have is a larger group that are younger and arguably more violent.
“Clearly there’s a major role for the police to play. The police respond to and solve crimes. Our role is largely in the catching and convicting area.
“The reality of the matter is catching and convicting does very little to change the fertile conditions that make it ideal for gang members to grow and for community violence to flourish.
“Catching and convicting will never solve those fundamental issues and while we are catching and convicting, more gang members will continue to grow and get more violent — violence begets violence.
“Communities with far more money, people and equipment have miserably failed. And the reason is because the roots of community violence are found not in crime but in the social factors.”
Mr Simons said that violence did not happen randomly, but was “predictable and based on known social and environmental factors”.
He said: “Violence is not a symptom of a bad person. Rather, it’s a negative outcome resulting from exposure to, or the presence of, numerous risk factors.
“Why is it that violence is most prevalent in disaffected communities that have less access to education, less educational attainment, less access to the economy, more clustered housing?
“To be sure, violence is a behaviour that some people do, it’s part of the choices they make, and there must absolutely be some type of enforcement and consequences.
“But it’s much broader than just law enforcement. It’s predictable and preventable. It’s like a pandemic in that it spreads and it clusters through exposure and the cycle continues to spiral downward.
“We desperately need to focus on how people experience violence, the social or economic context that predict whether they do, what happens as a result, and most importantly, what we can do to protect them and reduce the opportunities.”
Mr Simons’s comments echoed the words of another speaker at the meeting, Pastor Leroy Bean, who heads the Government’s Gang Violence Reduction Team.
Pastor Bean said that Black families were at a disadvantage because of a colonial system and resultant “trans-generational trauma”.
“You can lock up somebody today and tomorrow, someone else that wasn’t even related will rise up because trans-generational trauma exists and it’s real,” he said.
“What happens is, from family members certain things take place and it’s passed on to the next generation. And so it’s important for us as a people to start to recognise this and address these very factors that have been gone unnoticed for a while.”
Pastor Bean said that certain social constructs were done “by design”.
He said: “Why is it that we build houses and we put them up six storeys and then we cluster them, knowing full well that psychology proves that aggression comes from clustered areas. And then we want them to behave.
“Until we change and break the trait of trans-generational trauma it will continue. And how do we do that? We need to change the thought pattern because that’s the only empirical evidence proven to show we can break trans-generational trauma.”