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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Crime – real or imagined?


Roy R. Morris

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Crime – real or imagined?

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I cannot think of a single place in the world where there is not an almost natural tendency toward clashes between the police and the Press. It’s just the nature of the relationship.

Knowing this, I have always tried to keep my reporters sensitive to the need to expect these occasional flare-ups and to always act professionally.

Fortunately for us in Barbados, certainly over the past three decades while I have been a journalist, we have been blessed with Commissioners of Police and other members of the top brass who understand and appreciate the importance of harmonious relations between law enforcement and the Fourth Estate.

Orville Durant, Grantley Watson and Darwin Dottin all deliberately promoted policies that insisted that decent and healthy relations with the media were critical – and now Tyrone Griffith is following suit.

But that does not mean that from time to time just as we have had clashes in the trenches with individual lawmen, that we will not have to disagree publicly with the men at the top.

A perfect example of this would be my position in relation to a comment by Acting Commissioner Griffith last week as he reported on the situation with crime in Barbados. He said: “I know that generally you [media] and the public at large seem not to embrace statistics that speak to a reduction in crime. If they impart an indication of an escalation, you tend to accept them more readily. The stark reality is that crime in this country is currently at a 16 per cent decline over the same period last year and this is significant and unprecedented and it is occurring at a time when the country is still experiencing a difficult economic period.”

Now I am no position to question the accuracy of the Commissioner’s numbers, but I will share with him my gut reaction, which I suspect coincides with the feelings of a number of other Barbadians. It’s simply occasioned by the fact that for several years we have been having these regular announcements by police chiefs who seem invariably to report a drop in crime.

And for me it is not that the figures are not believable, it is just that reality [or mathematics] suggests that if each year we keep getting these reductions, some of them quite large, by now we should be pretty close to achieving a crime-free society. But that does not square with the reality of so many on the ground.

So perhaps the Acting Commissioner may want at his next Press conference to use the statistics for the past two decades to paint a clearer picture. Give us actual numbers and percentages and perhaps an explanation of “crime” versus “reported crime” and from the criminologist’s perspective some of the factors that influence the actual reporting – or non-reporting – of crime.

Let me try to show, based on the records of our library here at the Nation, why some Barbadians might think like me. It does not mean we are right and the Commissioner is wrong, or the other way around, just that perceptions can be built up even when those who speak do not intend such outcomes.

• June 12, 2005: Commissioner Dottin reports a 12 per cent reduction in crime to its lowest level in 15 years – coming on the heels of cumulative reductions in 2003 and 2004.

• June 6, 2006: Commissioner Dottin reports a 14 per cent increase in crime during the first five months of the year compared with the corresponding period one year earlier.

• February 21, 2007: Commissioner Dottin stressed that even though there had been a five per cent increase in overall crime last year compared with 2005, crime was “still comparable with 1986 levels”.

• February 27, 2008: Commissioner Dottin reports a five per cent increase in crime in the first eight weeks of 2008, compared with the corresponding period in 2007.

• April 16, 2008: Commissioner Dottin tells the 129th passing out parade of the Regional Police Training Centre there had been an overall decrease in crime last year, but the force could not perform at its best without adequate resources.

• December 29, 2008: Commissioner Dottin: “If you examine recorded crime for the last 20 years, you can see that recorded crime in Barbados is lower than it was 20 years ago. There are particular difficulties, but the fact is that recorded crime in Barbados is actually lower than it was in 1988.”

• February 20, 2009: Deputy Commissioner of Police Bertie Hinds: “Sometimes perception is stronger than reality and this is the type of criminal activity that will send fear through a country, the likes of robbery, aggravated burglary, the gun-toting and cutlass-wielding . . . . It may only take one or two instances for people to panic. I can assure you overall with statistics that up to now compared to last year, there has been a four per cent reduction in criminal activity and it has not risen since 2007.”

• May 27, 2009: Commissioner Dottin says: “From the figures I have seen, there is four per cent reduction in criminal activity noted across the board, but regardless, I want to assure Barbadians that we will not relax our efforts to keep the country safe and stall criminal activity.

“We do have our challenges in relation to the use of illegal firearms but daily we are monitoring and upgrading our methods to deal with this matter.”

• June 18, 2009: Commissioner Dottin reveals that in the first five and a half months of the year, there were 3 997 crimes compared with 4 048 in the corresponding period the previous year.

• November 12, 2009: The Commissioner reports a two per cent decrease in crime up to the end of October.

• June 16, 2010: Commissioner Dottin reports that in the previous 12-month period, there was a two per cent increase in crime.

• December 29, 2012: Police report 8 997 crimes in 2012 compared with 8 780 the previous year, a 2.4 per cent increase.

• December 24, 2013: Acting Commissioner Griffith in his Christmas message states: “To date, crime trends in Barbados are showing a decrease when compared to last year.”

• April 6, 2014: Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce, warning that many might not believe the statistics, reported a 22 per cent drop in crime compared with the previous year.

• May 14, 2014: Acting Commissioner Griffith reports a 24 per cent decline in overall crime in the first quarter of the year compared with the corresponding period in 2013.

Does this make my point clearer?

 

Home beat still the best

Talking about cops, reporters, crime and safety, I must confess that regardless of how the Commissioner’s announcements are taken, I am happy to take my chances in Barbados with the local criminals and cops. I would not trade my home for another.

Two weeks ago, I could not help but notice that while the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, were protesting over the killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by a cop, a CNN journalist was reporting with a microphone in his right hand and a gas mask in his left.

Two nights later while watching the BBC report from Pakistan of anti-government protest led by Imran Khan, again I could not help but notice that all the journalists were wearing bulletproof vests with the word “PRESS” emblazoned across the back and front.

Give me my little Bim, whatever you think of its crime statistics, any day!

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