THESE past few weeks have been troubling times for sections of the constituency of East Castries with increasing incidents of major criminal activity, murder no exception. The recent news of the murder of eight-month-old Gemma Lambert taken at face value must be distressing to her mother and the nation and should receive our condemnation at the highest for this new low.
So where does that leave us as a nation and the continuing episodes of physical and psychological abuse, neglect, harm — and even death — to our children as we predictably scramble to shift blame from one entity to another, yet once yearly celebrate something called World Children’s Day.
Minister for Local Government and Culture, Senator Fortuna Belrose, was off the starting blocks, describing the murder as “sad” and that her Ministry “empathizes” with the mother over the baby’s “tragic death”. She indicated the Ministry would provide support to the baby’s mother.
Parliamentary Representative, Philip J. Pierre, not to be excluded, visited the mother at her residence to express his condolences. Finally, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet reiterated Senator Belrose’s comments in describing the nature of the murder as “horrific circumstances”. He indicated further that “as a government, we remain concerned and determined to do all we can to ensure the safety of our innocent children and to empower the police with what they need in order to investigate this incident and all cases.” Comforting words, but with high demands.
I take those comments and actions from those persons as sincere. They should not be interpreted as anything else and should not be connected to anything political or any hidden agenda. Certainly not with loss of a life; worse, an eight-month-old child, and that can be substantiated by the fact that such or similar horrific crimes have been recurring over a very long time and across the political divide of government administrations.
So it will be the hard way that governments will realize party politics has no role in the crime solution and they must have the common goal to tackle it, each incoming administration building on the gains of the previous. It is that failed political selfishness that unwittingly has helped crime to advance.
The Prime Minister recently made comments regarding improvements to the police force — acquisition of resources and strengthening their investigative capacity. At least these are acknowledgements and not denials, or worst, silence. We know that the police have serious manpower, operational and technological resource deficiencies. IMPACS, yet to go away, has a debilitating effect on police morale and operations as they struggle and continue to be deprived of American funding for key training programmes and other benefits.
Our forensic laboratory, key to investigative law enforcement’s success, turned into a major let- down. But the Minister for National Security is a graduate of law and former Deputy Police Commissioner and so what the Prime Minister might not know or forget will certainly not apply to Senator Hermangild Francis.
The solving of criminal acts is no cup of tea — worst when criminal sophistication is part of the modus operandi and police investigative deficiencies prevail. Remember, we live in times of a decreasing availability of eyewitness testimony, a reality some prefer not to acknowledge. Consequently, investigative success will not come from sitting and waiting for a turn as that is all about luck. Rather, it will come from investigators digging in and with grit, commitment, proper and advanced training, adequate resources and support services, and being able to hypothesize and pursue all leads and investigative goals. That is professionalism at work.
Notwithstanding certain comments above, citizens have become only too familiar and skeptical about police-associated press releases like the mandatory ‘police investigations are continuing’, or as in the case of horrific crimes, ‘no stone will be left unturned’. That has stemmed largely from the majority of the major and/or horrific crimes that have quietly been relegated unsolved to the cold case section.
As we refer to this eight-month-old murder victim, now almost forgotten is little thirteen-year-old Verlinda Joseph, allegedly raped and murdered in a gruesome manner and for whom justice is still denied nearly fifteen years after her demise and across four government administrations. That stands testimony that the fight against crime must be apolitical.
I am sure the shopping list for the police must be long and varied but investigative success will require much more than good intent. Consequently, the first important factor, if not so, must be building on and maintaining a strong and well-operated intelligence base. With that will still be the need to foster and maintain strong public support via information given but the police will have to earn that trust. On that, I think of former Police Commissioner Vernon Augustin, a firm believer and master in the aspect of intelligence. It served him and, by extension, the police well.
Secondly, will be the need to secure a cadre, as anchors, of death, homicide and sexual assault investigators (specialized courses are available) and importantly trained forensic investigators — not examiners — (specialized training is available) and equipped with modern crime scene technology.
Thirdly, that combination, supported by a properly-staffed and functional crime laboratory and technology-driven fingerprint unit, should push law enforcement substantially forward into the realm of criminal investigations. This paragraph is very important because it relates to everything about evidence, which ultimately is the basis of criminal cases.
There are few matters more important to a society than a murder investigation as there is no greater affront to a people than the unprovoked, unwarranted and deliberate taking of a human life, worse if of a child. The only affront that compares to that is the failure for a commensurate response through a timely, thorough and hopefully successful investigation.
But there are other important aspects. Solving a murder is not only a State obligation to the victim’s family but it affords them closure while also demonstrating and reassuring citizens of police capabilities and further act as a deterrent to potential killers. A killer on the streets free and empowered from undetected wrongdoing will be inclined to seek another target if motive and opportunity are present.