Letters & Opinion

The Bystander Effect – Implications for Crime In St. Lucia

SOCIAL Psychology explains “The Bystander Effect” as a phenomenon whereby the greater the number of bystanders who witness an emergency, the less likely any one of them is to help.

Social Psychology is replete with that finding. However, I would like to investigate that social psychological phenomenon in relation to what I experience in our St. Lucian society, and to make some sense of that image, especially with the crime situation in our Fair Helen.

I wish to recall three emergencies which have occurred in Castries in the very recent past. The first emergency occurred when a tourist was robbed near the fish market and was injured in the process. Judging from what I saw in the news item, there were some persons around who quickly came to his rescue mainly because it was an inhumane act, and specifically that the tourist industry was very important to the well-being of the St. Lucian economy. There might have been five or six persons who came to help, however, if there were twenty, fifty or hundred persons many more St. Lucians would have wanted to help.

There was another incident where it was reported that a St. Lucian woman who lives in the United Kingdom and who was visiting her county tripped near the front of the Castries Market and was injured. Several persons who were on the scene came to help. It was reflex action! There was an instantaneous movement of people wanting to help. And if there were a thousand persons there would have been help in abundance.

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The third case occurred only a few days ago when a student from the Carmen Renee Primary School came into contact with a minibus at or near a pedestrian crossing on the waterfront. In quick time the scene was thronged with people, some of whom, I’m sure, wanted to help, particularly because a school child was involved.

Now this desire to help in emergency situations is not typical to Castries. It would happen in Dennery, Vieux Fort or Anse-la-Raye. Indeed, anywhere in St. Lucia.

It is not my intention to ‘knock down’ the research finding, but instead, I want to look at another dimension of the “Bystander Effect” which, perhaps has not yet been fully researched.

In St. Lucia, scores of people have witnessed serious criminal offences being committed, either in small groups or alone. In the case of the tourist who was robbed near the fish market, someone or some persons may have witnessed the crime and even know the offender. But the question is: would they come forward with the information? Whether it was one person or a score of persons who witnessed the crime, the situation would still remain the same. No reports! The point is people fear for their lives. Persons do not share information because of the fear of reprisals. The fear of reprisals in St. Lucia is a real issue! Generally, persons do not trust the system that was designed to protect them. As a result, many people are reluctant to come forward to say what they see, as it relates to crime. They have themselves to protect, they also have their family members and loved ones to protect as well. Indeed, there is a “Crime Hotline” through which persons wanting to conceal their identity, can be used. But St. Lucia is a small country and many callers could very easily be identified as soon as they speak.

In New York, for example, as one proceeds down the subway, a notice could be seen which reads: “If you see something, say something.” But could this be done very easily in St. Lucia?

The Commissioner of Police has said, and very forcefully, he intends to deal with rogue cops within the Royal St. Lucia Police Force. He did not explain, and, perhaps for very good reasons, what he meant by “rogue cops”. This is open to very broad interpretations. What we do not know is how those “rogue cops” are obstructing, if they are, the natural course of justice in St. Lucia as it relates to crime reporting. And that’s the crunch! People are afraid that even within the police force itself that very confidential information could be leaked out to criminals.

In St. Lucia, it is very difficult to protect key witnesses in “high profile” cases. This is another reason why many people may see something, and say nothing. And this is not healthy for our society.

But there is good news for us in 2015. In a New Year report given by the police, there is some indication that persons are coming forward to report what they have seen as it relates to crime. Finally, they have begun to build some confidence in the Royal St. Lucia Police Force to the extent that it was reported that major crimes were down in St. Lucia for 2014.

But that has happened by no accident. Since the advent of Police Commissioner Vernon Francois, a lot of effort has gone into fighting crime. And indeed, many St. Lucians have expressed those sentiments. Even his clear and unambiguous language is an indication of his determination in this regard.

But fighting crime does not necessarily mean the use of force. There are several ways of fighting crime. Good community relations is an excellent strategy for ‘addressing’ crime and criminal matters. Retired Sergeant Chriselda Branford was a strong advocate for the use of this strategy. The Babonneau Police station is pointing the way in this regard. And I want to take this opportunity to congratulate that unit in his regard.

The Marchand Police has articulated that strategy in their plan for the Marchand Community. They have even gone on to form a community relations committee which includes some key members of the community. We should soon see the immense benefits of the community and police working together.

By Sylvestre Phillip

1 Comment

  1. Good form.
    More concealed public surveillance cameras in high profile areas especially.
    A codified anonymous way to report suspected criminal activity that ties into an anonymous method of receiving monetary rewards -if any- for a conviction.

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