THERE is no word yet either from the Home Affairs Ministry nor the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force on whether their crime-fighting strategies for 2020 will be the same ones used in 2019 or whether a tweaking or a complete change of those strategies will be made.
Whatever the case may be, crime, always a political issue, and a highly partisan one at that, was front and center in the country in 2019, creating bold headlines in the media and having government officials trying to appear calm outwardly while inwardly seething at their inability to bring the crime monster under their control.
Even more unnerving about the 2019 crime situation in the country were the always remembered remarks by government ministers, most notably Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, that his party/government has a plan to reduce the scourge by a certain percentage. Further, that his party, if given the chance to govern, can do a better job than the previous administration when it comes to keeping Saint Lucians safe.
From June 2016 to December 2019, the government’s pronouncements about its ability to control crime have all failed as the island’s homicide rate continues to spiral out of control.
While there may have been reductions in certain criminal acts since the government’s time in office the same cannot be said for homicides or murders as numbers like 60 (2017; 44 (2018) and 51 (2019) show the truth of the task facing the government in getting Saint Lucians to seek redress other than through a gun or a sharp object which usually results in a death.
So intense has been crime in the country that 2019 began with an effort to revive a ministry that had slid into oblivion called “Pray for the Nation Ministry”. This was being done amid 2019 New Year celebrations that were marred with violence, a spillover it seems from 2018, a year that saw our criminals reaching a new high of defiance and impudence by breaking into the Lamar building that housed four police departments.
Less than a week into 2019 and the police department, through Assistant Police Commissioner Wayne Charlery, admitted that the break-in embarrassed the police force. Right on the heels of that statement came the island’s first homicide – the slaying of Britisher Robert Hathaway at his home in Grand Riviere, Gros Islet. In this case, the police force produced results as quickly as possible and 10 months later a charge was made in Hathaway’s murder.
So big had crime become so early in 2019 that a government official noted that the Bordelais Correctional Facility was under pressure in that the remand population at the facility was at its highest in four years, way above the number of the penal population, meaning those already sentenced by a court.
Even Mayor Peterson Francis weighed in on the crime situation in January 2019 saying that magistrates and judges were too lenient with lawbreakers.
It was felt that crime would be dealt a severe blow with the reopening of the Nyerah Court at Vigie in February. But this was not to be even with Police Commissioner Severin Monchery addressing the crime issue immediately after the opening of the court. Not even outspoken human rights campaigner attorney Mary Francis was spared the lashes of the crime monster as her offices were broken into and ransacked in February.
All the while armed robberies were occurring all over the country, particularly in Castries targeting bakeries and mini-marts as well as individuals. Independence 2019 saw Prime Minister Chastanet saying there is still a lot of work to be done in crime and other areas.
With the month of February still far from over, Saint Lucia recorded its fourth homicide in Jacmel, Anse la Raye when Souheil Wassouf of Rodney Heights was shot multiple times about the body.
From then on, an almost endless stream of violent acts was unleased, it seems, that involved even police officers as well. Teenagers, as well as persons in their early twenties and older, became victims weekend after weekend, month after month resulting in 51 persons being killed for the year, some during the just ended Christmas season and averaging just over four persons killed per month, an incredible amount for a small island.