By Ed Forbes – Concerned citizen of Grand Turk
Turks and Caicos Islands is now at a crossroad where The Bahamas and Jamaica once were in terms of growth, development and the growing crime rate.
The impact on economic growth in the long run will inevitably open the doors to undesirable elements and criminals seeking to prey on the most vulnerable. Where we go from here will determine the long-term future of our country.
How do we continue to hang on and nurture the boom we once had, while keeping our citizens and visitors alike safe?
Red flags are being raised such as the growing violent crime rate and immigration control. The question remaining is, are we doing enough to tackle these problems head on?
It all begins and ends with forging a strong partnership, collaboration and trust between the public and private sectors. This is the key to supporting sustainable development while keeping crime in check.
I must say, some progress has been made with arrests and detection of serious crimes, for which I commend our dedicated law enforcement officers. Nevertheless, much more work still needs to be done on understanding the official and unofficial social, political and economic structures that is sustaining these high levels of crime.
There are public concerns that development might be growing faster than our ability to cope. Without a coordinated response, we risk being unable to fully capture the potential of tourism and protect the long-term sustainability of this once robust but fragile industry.
Although the crime statistics are not available online to the public, the Governor himself in a recent address to the nation said that 40% of the crime or probably higher could be termed gang or turf related.
With that being said, what specialized training if any, have our police officers been exposed to in this area? What we need is specialized boots on the ground.
We have to always try to stay one step ahead of the game with criminals. With that being said, my focus in this article will be primarily on Grand Turk, because in my opinion we are the most vulnerable at this point. This once peaceful and quaint little town, now the center of attention.
Case in point: How efficient is our harbor master services in GT to assist these foreign yachts embarking on our shores all hours of the night? Too often have I personally been approached on the beach by foreign captains and crew, asking where to find the local immigration or customs department.
At that point, who knows who or what was brought into our country. Law makers and our dedicated law enforcement agencies are scratching their heads to find solutions to suppress crime and some of the answers are right in our faces.
Control our boarders and point of entries, not just Provo and we might stand a fighting chance of being able to stem the flow of weapons into our country and put a larger dent in crime. And here is what’s even more concerning, the criminals are being armed and some law abiding citizens are not being approved permits to carry firearms.
Another point I would like to make; it’s been years now and we are still fighting for a decent marine vessel in Grand Turk. On a number of occasions, local fishermen have reported spotting illegal fishing boats and other foreign vessels in our waters off great Sand Cay.
By the time a marine vessel is dispatched from Provo they could long gone; and with the number of deserted cays we have, they could easily be used as staging areas for illegal weapons or drugs.
A vessel stationed permanently in Grand Turk is desperately needed to help protect our porous borders, enforce local safety and environmental regulations and provide that sense of security for tourists and citizens alike.
With the recent spike in armed robberies and assaults in Grand Turk, it has placed many of our citizens on edge. Apparently, there has been skepticism among some residents when reporting crime, due to the fear of their names being disclosed.
What are we doing to fix this? I don’t have all the answers, but I think community policing is a good starting point to rebuild that trust. I was impressed to see a few police officers walking the beat the other day. It’s a good start and let’s continue to support them in this area as it is a program that certainly needs to be strengthened.
On a tiny island such as Grand Turk, where most people are closely related or connected in some way, most of these crimes should be resolved within a reasonable timeframe. Citizens also needs to fully grasp the role they play in maintaining a free, safe and prosperous society.
We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and think it’s someone else’s problem or wait until it reaches our doorsteps. One must also ask, does our local police department have enough manpower and other needed resources to do their jobs effectively?
Specifically, adequate number of patrol vehicles so they can strategically positioned themselves near the hot spots especially on the weekends when most crimes occur.
It has been proven that criminals will become embolden and crimes will continue to escalate if not resolved within a reasonable time frame. Having worked hand and hand with law enforcement abroad for most of my career in private and corporate investigations, I know too well how frustrating it could be for law enforcement not to have the proper tools to do their jobs.
I would be remiss if I fail to mention the challenges some of our young men in Grand Turk are facing with drugs and alcohol abuse.
Although the relationship between drugs, alcohol and gang related crime is a complex one, they are intimately related. The government should seriously consider looking into setting up a community based-treatment program in Grand Turk and monitor the impact such programs can have on our growing violent crime rate.
At this point, let’s leave no stone unturned.