Our crime reduction program must be based on the premise that there are no 'acceptable' levels of crime. Therefore, all our efforts must be directed toward reducing criminal activity, in all forms and at all strata in our society, to the lowest levels possible.
Reducing crime is not a one-dimensional problem. There is no single measure that will bring success. For us to solve the problem we must tackle it on all fronts and in all sectors.
Restoring Morale and Modernizing the Police Force
The first element of our program should be to transform and modernize the operations of the Saint Lucia Police Force. For decades, we have asked our police to do the impossible - fight increasingly sophisticated and resourced criminal activity without the necessary tools or structure. To compound matters, we have placed the entire police force under an unnecessary and very unhelpful cloud of suspicion because of the actions of a few during Operation Restore Confidence.
Therefore, the operations of the Police Force should be completely transformed in every area, with a strong emphasis on the use of appropriate technology to help prevent and solve crimes, and the promotion of community policing to foster a stronger, more trustful relationship between the police and the communities they serve. This will be a cornerstone of our program.
The headquarters of the Saint Lucia Police Force should be completely rebuilt in order to provide our police with the physical infrastructure they deserve to fulfill their critical responsibilities.
Intelligence gathering is critical for both crime prevention and crime solving. Therefore, an intelligence unit, supported by a secure intelligence management database system, should be established as an important component of the national security apparatus.
Active support should be provided to communities to engage in Neighborhood Watch programs. These programs will emphasize the importance of communities shouldering some level of responsibility for ensuring that criminal activity is kept out and will help to strengthen the partnership between the communities and the police.
Focus on Education and Building Good Habits
Civic responsibility should return to our school curriculum from infant/primary level all the way to secondary school level. Our youth and young adults must be taught the importance of becoming engaged in their society and accepting responsibility for the effective management of their communities.
Every secondary school student should be required to engage in an agreed number of hours of community work in every year of their school life in order to be eligible for promotion and to be able to graduate. A new credit system should be developed that will require students to amass a minimum number of Civic Credits in order to be promoted and to graduate.
Conflict resolution should be taught in schools and students who demonstrate the ability to peacefully and amicably resolve conflicts will receive extra credits that will count toward their Civic Credits.
The early childhood years are very important in the development of the human brain and the habits and abilities that young adults will adopt. Many of the behavioral problems that develop later in the teenage years can be traced to deficiencies during the early childhood development of the individual. Therefore, there should be a very strong focus on early childhood development to ensure that all children, regardless of the economic status of their parents, benefit from an acceptable level of early childhood development. This should involve every child being enrolled in a quality early childhood development program, the provision of parental skills training programs in all communities around the island, and enhanced support for the Roving Caregivers Program.
Financial and technical support should be provided for after-school programs, particularly in economically depressed communities, in order to assist students with academic studies and provide them with opportunities to learn important new life skills.
As a component of a redesigned Health and Family Life Education syllabus in secondary schools, emphasis should be placed on encouraging respect between men and women, amicably resolving differences and arguments, and eliminating all forms of gender-based abuse and violence in our society.
Support should be provided for early intervention and prevention programs that reduce the impact of negative (risk) factors and enhance the influence of positive (protective) factors in the lives of youth at greatest risk of delinquency. This should also involve the complete overhaul and improvement of the conditions and operations of the Boys Training Centre and greater support to the Upton Gardens Girls Centre, including the provision of a residential service.
Court Diversion Programs for Youth
Every effort must be made to prevent the early criminalization of young people and reduce their contact with the justice system. This is why pre-court interventions should be used to present alternatives to court processing or the imposition of formal charges against low-risk youth. An important component of this approach should be to provide the affected youth with services that positively impact their psychosocial development and minimize their odds of engaging in risk-taking behavior.
Support for Civil Society Efforts
A significant component of violent crime originates in the social tensions that exist within certain communities in our city and major towns. Support must be given to civil society-based initiatives such as Safe Spaces, which seeks to develop a better community spirit among the communities through sports and social interactions.
The social and physical conditions that make crime easier to flourish and take root in communities must be dealt with. Particular attention should be paid to vulnerable or at-risk youth and direct support should be provided to programs and agencies that seek to improve the life choices available to these young people.
Also, in response to crime originating from group violence, a problem analysis approach should be taken to help identify the high-risk groups and to work directly with group-involved violent offenders to de-escalate inter-group tensions, discourage them from engaging in criminal activity and provide them with access to social services.
The Police Force should be made to embark on a sustained pattern of 'disorder policing', which is based on the 'Broken Windows' principle. This involves the use of both community-based and problem-oriented policing strategies. Also, where necessary, it should involve the use of more aggressive order-maintenance or zero-tolerance policing strategies. The focus should be on reducing neighborhood disorder as a mechanism for preventing or reducing crime. Disorder policing involves stiffer and more consistent police responses to disorderly conduct, loitering, use of foul language, public drunkenness, damage to public property, and traffic violations.
There should be more expansive deployment of closed circuit television (CCTV) to monitor and record activity in areas that are prone or vulnerable to criminal activity. This serves as both a deterrent and an aid in solving crime.
The operations of Bordelais Correctional Facility should be revisited to ensure that the facility fulfills its original role of rehabilitation and remediation. Inmates at this facility must be taught to become better, law-abiding citizens on their release.
Support should be provided to offenders who have successfully completed a program of rehabilitation at the Bordelais Correctional Facility to assist these persons in finding jobs, reintegrating peacefully and seamlessly into society and becoming positive role models in their community.
Very importantly, fighting and reducing crime is the responsibility of every Saint Lucian. We must mobilize everyone in this important battle and everyone who has an idea, a suggestion or a proposal must be heard. No single group of people has all the ideas or solutions and no government can do this on its own. This will take a significant, sustained and focused national effort, but it must be done.