Law enforcement officers have recently undertaken a commendable and noteworthy venture in reaching out to residents from various communities on island, seeking to implement measures to deal with today’s worrisome crime situation.
In the midst of a spiralling wave of gun violence that included a double homicide, in a rural Castries community, the police, in collaboration with staffers from the Ministry of Social Affairs and other government departments, stepped out of their ‘comfort zones’ in office spaces and took to the streets and alleyways to meet with residents from the affected communities.
For the past two weeks, the team of security and social affairs personnel have been busy combing these areas in an effort to try and bring some form of ‘reconciliation and hope’ to the beleaguered residents.
The venture initially covered the communities of Jacmel, Dennery and Vieux Fort; and police personnel say they plan to spread this initiative island-wide.
In the latest such exercise, where the group dished out some ‘sound advice’ to residents of Bruceville (Vieux Fort), the organizing unit included persons from the Community Relations Branch (CRB) of the Royal St Lucia Police Force (RSLPF), in collaboration with other government agencies, such as Social Services, Human Services, Health, Family Life, Social Transformation and Youth and Sports.
Bruceville has been regarded as one of the most troubled areas in the community, where gang wars and other domestic disputes involving mostly young men from the area have flared up with an outburst of gun violence and violent crimes over the past few months.
Residents were counselled with options on how to avoid and deal with conflicts.
Of particular importance too, was the focus on families of the victims affected by the violence. A Community Relations Officer of the RSLPF commented: “We reached out to two families in Bruceville who were affected by the last set of homicides in Vieux Fort. We reached out as professionals and let them know what resources are available to them.”
The law officers assured residents that their duties were not solely enforcement bent, but to also provide support and assistance going forward. The officers took the opportunity to provide residents with face masks and hand sanitiser to help them abide by the COVID-19 protocols.
Critics have since discerned that this was quite a ‘pleasant and worthwhile’ undertaking, in contrast to the ‘flak’ the cops got from the public over the handling of misdemeanours involving persons not complying with the COVID-19 protocols.
Debra Charlemagne of the Department of Human Service said: “Our goal is to reach out to the community and send a message based on the level of crime and social problems residents experienced in there.”
She said there is a need to let the community know that there is always an alternative way to deal with issues or social problems than with physical violence.
“We can deal with it in different ways, so we can be safe and experience a better social life,” Charlemagne said.
The community outreach exercise was also carried out in the communities of Jacmel and Dennery, last week, where the group went out to try and console the heartbroken and tormented residents.
At Jacmel, residents have had to cope with a gruesome double homicide and other ghastly criminal acts, while in Dennery , residents on Church Street and its surrounding have been complaining about the ‘nightmares’ they have experienced from gun shots ringing out and fearful for their lives, and especially the elderly amongst them.
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Wayne Charlery told reporters that the input of community leaders and elders in the society can go a long way in helping to set the platform for such ‘community interventions’. He noted that the spiritual leaders too, priests and pastors must play their part and help to address the situation.
While adding some relevance to the issue of ‘community intervention’, Dr. Venus Cherry of RISE St Lucia says there must be a coordinated approach by various sectors within society to help tackle the situation.
The RISE –CEO feels there is still too much stigmatization with regards to persons’ territorial background and individuals that have been incarcerated being accepted into society and, most importantly the commercial sector. He said the rallying cry amongst ‘ghetto youths’ is that they need jobs and an opportunity to earn a decent pay, but oftentimes their pleas are not addressed by the authorities and persons in position, in society.
“It’s about bringing our personal stories to them, we have people who’ve been locked up, we have people who’ve been arrested and people who’ve been in trouble with the law and who’ve done better and made a difference in their lives ,” Dr. Cherry declared . “And going to them and saying, there is a way and there is a means.”
The RISE CEO added, “When we talk holistic approach, I’m doing my part in my capacity …will I write petitions, will I lobby for change in legislation, yes, we will do that as an organization.
“But, in the meantime we’re going to those people, we’re presenting ourselves, we’re presenting our faces. We are going and sit with them and talk with them, we are actually going and listen to them, because that’s the only way you can truly understand how to help someone change, if you know what’s really affecting them.”
Saint Lucia held a Crime Symposium in 2017 from which a committee was formed and tasked with the responsibility of analyzing and proposing methods to help effectively deal with the crime issue.
National Security Minister Hermangild Francis, recently reported that the committee, consisting of representatives from the public and private sectors, has been presenting periodic reports to help tackle the crime issue.