Police budget cut raises concern in the Senate
Shadow National Security Minister Michael Dunkley yesterday urged Government not to “play games with public safety” as he questioned how police can tackle rising violent crime with a reduced budget.
Government Senate leader David Burch had defended the police budget cut of 11 percent to $58 million for 2011-12 by telling the Senate yesterday: “The Bermuda Police Service was not expected to be exempt from the economic realities that form the backdrop to this Budget.
“There is a greater need for greater efficiency, and I expect they will meet the challenge.”
However, Senator Dunkley said he was uncomfortable with Government's repeated promises to “do more with less” without specifying how that will be achieved.
“It's clear in my mind that over the last couple of years the challenges we have faced with crime and public safety in this community caught Government flat-footed,” said Sen Dunkley.
“But since that time we have done a pretty good job. The police should be commended.”
But pointing to statistics showing that firearm shootings had increased from one in 2008 to 14 in 2009 and 39 last year, he continued: “I don't want to put handcuffs on police themselves because they don't have the budget to get things done.”
Sen Dunkley said that at the beginning of 2009-10 Government had allocated $60.5 million to the police budget, only to end up spending $70.5 million.
“The Minister said two years ago we are going to cut overtime,” he said. “Lo and behold, the budget was an absolute farce.
“So how can we sit here today as senators and have any faith that that $58 million is going to be close to the mark? That makes a mockery of the Budget process.”
Of Government's vow to “do more with less”, he said: “Give me a break. Show me something tangible where I believe that's going to happen. We can't play games with public safety.
“Today we want answers on how this Government believes this Budget will actually work.”
Sen Dunkley also called for a review of the Police Service to see how it can be made more efficient.
Reflecting on Sen Burch's comments that the force will cope with cuts, he said: “That tells me before we weren't being as efficient as we should be.”
Sen Burch later replied: “The Bermuda Police Service has always overspent. The same apparent disregard for budgeting occurred under the UBP.”
Now, he said, “the Commissioner has said enough is enough and said that such disregard for the budget process must cease”.
He went on to praise Commissioner Michael DeSilva for not being media shy and for giving regular updates on policy and statistics.
More praise for Mr DeSilva came from PLP Senator David Burt who said: “I think this Commissioner has done a magnificent job despite the decrease in resources budgeted over the past year.”
During yesterday's debate, Sen Burch said a new X-ray scanner being installed in Hamilton's docks would enhance targeting techniques.
The machine, he said, will be capable of scanning 175 containers per seven-hour day and is designed to combat the importation of contraband such as drugs and guns, and save dock staff having to search containers by hand.
Earlier this month, Hamilton Mayor Charles Gosling refuted Government's claim the Corporation of Hamilton had stepped back from the new X-ray project.
However, Sen Burch yesterday said he would be quite happy to release into the public domain documents proving Mr Gosling wrong.
Sen Dunkley said an incident two weeks ago, when one of his own containers was inspected by nine officers, showed the current system is “a joke”.
“Why would we need nine staff to inspect one container?” he asked. “Hopefully this new piece of equipment can do a decent job.”
The Shadow Minister also spoke on road safety, saying we should not allow the habits of road users to “just continue to degrade”.
Opposition Senate leader Jeanne Atherden asked Sen Burch to explain the purpose of an independent immigration review and land holding review that he has previously announced.
Sen Burch replied that Government has embarked on a review of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act. It is also looking at the issue of land holdings “to determine if there's a means to stimulate the economy by a review of land licencing”.
Sen Atherden also commented on the 33 percent cut in the budget for the police central area command unit and asked how this will be achieved.
UBP Senator Suzann Roberts-Holshouser, the former St David's MP, asked for figures on police officers on patrol in the East and West ends.
She also asked whether work permits will increase but Sen Burch told her that issue came under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, not National Security.