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Government to launch ‘Stop the Violence’ campaign

Community challenge: Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government will launch a “Stop the Violence” campaign this year in a drive to curb antisocial behaviour.

Administrators will also liaise with anti-crime agencies, charities, sports groups and other organisations to ensure that those bodies can work in unison to tackle the problem.

Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, unveiled both initiatives in the House of Assembly on Friday during a debate on his ministry’s budget for the next 12 months

But despite being given five hours to discuss his plans for the upcoming year, Mr Weeks was scant on details about the antiviolence campaign.

He spent more than an hour of his allotted time reviewing the work of the Government’s Gang Violence Reduction Programme over the past year. The programme will receive a 52 per cent increase of $325,000 from its original allocation last year to $946,000 this year.

Mr Weeks said that, under the watch of the GVRP, his ministry had launched a series of programmes — including work experience projects for young offenders and an outreach programme in primary schools to deter youngsters from joining gangs.

He also applauded the “stellar” work of Leroy Bean, the head of the Gang Violence Reduction Taskforce, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funding each year.

But he went on to acknowledge that gang-related crime was still on the rise.

Mr Weeks noted that 88 people had been murdered in recent times.

“People are living in fear of violence and are frustrated because there appears to be no end in sight. They are well within their rights,” he said.

He added that social issues such as poverty, poor education and single-parent families played a significant role in the growth of gang culture.

Mr Weeks insisted that the island could not “police its way out of this”. He said that stiffer penalties would not deter criminals and that broader action was needed to tackle the issue.

He said: “This is a community issue that needs a community response.

“Violence is complex and has evolved over time. Solutions cannot come from the Ministry of National Security alone.

“We cannot police ourselves out of this violence. Tougher laws have minimum impact and do not tackle the root of the problem.”

Mr Weeks said that the idea to launch a campaign emerged after a series of town hall meetings and a two-day workshop with stakeholders held last year.

He said that the workshop at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in September had attracted 110 attendees who were each invited to fill out a questionnaire “to identify redundancies and overlaps”.

Mr Weeks said: “I saw glimmers of hope in that room as members said they were willing to work for solutions. The Bermuda public wanted something to be done but many are unsure of what that something should be.”

The minister added that data from those questionnaires was collated and resulted in the germination of a campaign. But he gave no further information on the campaign or its cost.

According to Mr Weeks, the meetings also exposed that organisations were working independently and needed to join forces and work collaboratively to be more effective.

Mr Weeks said: “Despite the fact organisations were working on the same issues, they recognised they didn’t work together to provide holistic support to individual clients. Their efforts are disjointed.”

The minister added that the Government would set up a database of gang-violence intelligence, listing the names of victims and perpetrators.

Mr Weeks said: “Children are still falling through cracks. Children need services and programmes and we need to understand how to improve service delivery overall — there’s always room for improvement.”

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Security, was allowed only ten minutes to respond to Mr Weeks’s presentation, which lasted almost five hours.

Acknowledging that time was “short”, Mr Dunkley praised the Government for attempting to tackle the gang violence issue.

But he said that the time for talk was over and that well-intended social schemes needed to start delivering results.

Mr Dunkley said: “A big focus – and rightly so for the Government – on gang violence reduction. Not being critical of the programmes, because I wish the minister had given some more detail about the programmes, because it was basically a rehash of what was given in the last budget without saying anything new. I want to see where the actions are going to come out of that.”

He pointed out that funding for tackling community violence had ballooned in the past three years, forcing successive ministers to apply for supplementaries to fund “overspends”.

Mr Dunkley also asked why ministry funds were being pumped into high-profile crime-detection measures when poor driving habits were proving more costly in terms of lives. Last year ten people were killed in road traffic crashes, while nine were shot dead in gang-related murders.

He said: “Road safety needs to be a more important consideration for this government.

“We focus on gangs and guns and violence, as we should, but I bet you the number of road fatalities we’ve had since 2017, I bet you it’s is 50 per cent more than the number of murders.

“If we’re having more road fatalities, why aren’t we making sure we stop that – we’re concentrating on gangs and guns. It makes no sense. The culture of bad driving, it’s absolutely disgusting.”

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Published March 06, 2023 at 7:35 am (Updated March 06, 2023 at 7:35 am)

Government to launch ‘Stop the Violence’ campaign

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