Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to invite Honourable Members and the wider Bermuda community to partner with me and the Gang Violence Reduction Team as we continue the work to eradicate the senseless violence that has become all too common on our Island.
Since taking up the role of Minister of National Security at the beginning of April, addressing violence in our community has been my highest priority. Not more than 48 hours after my appointment, I found myself performing the grim task of offering condolences to two families who are now dealing with the grief of losing young sons to gun violence. On that occasion I expressed that the issue of gang violence and antisocial behavior is one for all of us to tackle. It has been said before, and it warrants repeating; eradication of violent crime in Bermuda requires us to work together as a community, we will not police our way out of this.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will recall that the first identified gang related murder occurred in 2001. Two years later, in 2003, Bermuda was shocked by the occurrence of the first gang related murder that involved the use of a firearm. Since 2001 we have had 71 murders in Bermuda where a weapon has been used.
I will pause here for a moment to allow that number to sink in. 71 murders in just over 20 years.
This included 43 murders involving a firearm and 20 involving a knife. There have been 58 persons charged before the Courts in relation to these 71 murders.
During this period we have had 294 confirmed firearm incidents.
Mr. Speaker, Our generation remember a time not long ago, when a single murder would shock the Island and we struggled to comprehend it. We now have a generation who believe the level of violence today is normal, where a gunman can walk into a family restaurant and execute two people in cold blood.
This year, we have already seen the lives of 4 men lost to violence. These numbers do not even begin to include the dozens of violent crime occurrences that have resulted in public disturbances and injury.
To state it simply, these are sobering statistics of the level of violence in our community. It is important to note that this is not just a gang problem, but an issue where it is becoming commonplace to resolve issues with violence. We cannot allow this senseless cycle of violence to continue. To this end, I have undertaken to meet with all relevant stakeholders, including Government Ministries and Departments, local charities and grassroots organizations, and the private sector in order to renew our joint efforts. There are often murmurs from the community that suggest that more or better policing could solve the violence problem overnight. However, the fact remains that Bermuda cannot simply police, arrest and incarcerate its way out of the violence problem.
This is not to say that policing is not important. In fact, I have met with the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) to ensure that the Ministry of National Security is doing all that it can to support the BPS’ enforcement and prevention operations. This includes conversations about manpower and other resources needed. Additionally, our partners at the Ministry of Legal Affairs have ensured that Bermuda’s Criminal Code Act 1907, the Proceeds of Crime Act 1997, the Firearms Act 1973, and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1972 provide offences and strong penalties for criminal activity, including increased penalties for unlawful gang activity within increased penalty zones surrounding our schools and community centers. It has been robust policing and prosecution that have led to the successful convictions of perpetrators of some of our most violent crimes.
The BPS has implemented a Gang Violence Reduction Strategy with a core focus on partnership. It consists of three pillars;
Prevention (Education & Awareness)
Catch & Convict – Police focused (Targeting/Suppression)
Resettlement/Rehabilitation – collaboration.
The strategy of Prevent and Deter is to stop young offenders escalating into prolific offenders and to prevent children and young people from becoming involved in criminality in the first place.
Mr. Speaker, with Catch and Convict, the BPS deploys a Police Support Unit and a Gang Targeting Unit that are primarily focused on disruption and enforcement activity specifically as it relates to those involved with gangs. Further the approach with our partners is to focus on the same key groups of offenders who are causing the most crime.
With Rehabilitate and Resettle, the BPS chairs the multi- agency offender management team that provides on-going assessment and supervision for high-risk offenders in an effort to encourage effective rehabilitation and resettlement of persons leaving prison services.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will be aware that the Gang Violence
Reduction Team (GVRT) was formed in October 2017 as the part of the
Government’s response to the surge in gang violence. Since its inception
the GVRT has directly supported hundreds of young men and at-risk youth through it various programmes in the community and in our public school as has been shared in previous Ministerial Statements. Following any incidence of violent injury or death, the GVRT’s Coordinated Crisis Response Team continues to be available to de-escalate tensions and reduce the likelihood of immediate retaliation.
My predecessor spoke in detail in her budget brief to this Honourable House about the programmes of the GVRT and in particular the number of individuals that the team has worked with from school children through to adults.
It is difficult to quantify and qualify the work of the GVRT as the measuring stick of success is the number of lives saved, but even one life lost bares more weight than all of the lives saved. Nevertheless, the GVRT continues to make inroads in the community, which are making a meaningful difference in the lives of the young people the team supports.
I am briefed weekly by the Bermuda Police Command and separately by Bishop Bean on issues of antisocial behavior and violence in our community as well as progress on programs to mitigate this behaviour. I am encouraged by the engagement and professionalism of both the Bermuda Police Service and the GVRT. It is unfortunate that some have politicized the issue and are publicly critical of Bishop and his team. I have every confidence in Bishop Bean and his team and want to thank them for their dedication and recognize them for the important work they do every day. Yes, every day. These issues and incidents don’t stop on weekends or public holidays.
The efforts of the BPS in enforcement, the criminal justice system in prosecution, and the GVRT in de-escalation and prevention, can only be strengthened by the community’s efforts in proactive prevention. The young men, and now even young women, who are involved, or are at risk for involvement with antisocial behavior, each have talents and skills that would be better suited to making positive contributions to the community. It is the duty of each of us to ensure that all young people, and especially our at-risk youth, are provided with an abundance of opportunities to discover and hone these skills, so that antisocial behavior and gang activity loses its appeal.
Mr. Speaker, in order to successfully eradicate violence in our community, we must collectively address the socio-economic root causes. The work will involve difficult introspection. We will need to investigate how the actions and in some cases, lack of action, of responsible citizens have contributed to the cancerous growth of violence in our community.
Each of us has a role to play. Parents and families must work to rebuild strong family support units. Fathers need to step up and take responsibility. Community organizations must develop programmes that support young people and help them to develop a love and respect for the communities they occupy. The private sector must utilize its depth of resources to assist community organizations in their mission. Each of us must determine how we can individually and collectively contribute to the common goal of stopping the cycle of violence. This includes assisting the police – “if you know something say something”. This can be done anonymously. Silence is an enabler to those that commit violent acts.
There is no easy solution to this problem. It is not something that we can just throw money at in the hopes that it will disappear. Simply talking about the problem will also not suffice. I am calling on Honourable Members here and in the other place to join hands in a bi-partisan approach to firmly standing against gang violence. I will shortly inviting you to attend round table discussions on our plan for the way forward and how we as a community must address this. We need input and action from all of our leaders and activist if we hope to make any progress. I am confident that with consistent and united efforts, we can return Bermuda to a place of strong social ties and community support where violence is not the norm.
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