Former Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has urged the Government to seek foreign help to deal with the current spate of crime.
“I wish to urge consideration by the authorities of inviting a team of specialist investigators into Barbados to help us get to the bottom of the dangerous criminal activity of gun importation, gun trade and use in Barbados,” he said in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
The leader of the Alliance Party for Progress (APP) stressed that his suggestion was not an indictment on the investigative capacity of the local police authority and service.
Instead, he said, it was “an acknowledgement of a multifaceted context in which such violent crime is taking place in Barbados”.
“This includes the high incidence of violent attacks and death, absence of arrests and prosecutions related to gun importation and trafficking, [and] obviously divided opinion among authorities and experts in the field of police operations and investigations,” Bishop Atherley asserted.
He also highlighted impediments related to the judicial process, the effect of political influence on the administration of the Barbados Police Service and seeming tensions between Customs and police operations.
The political leader acknowledged that the engagement of an overseas team would come at a cost to the country. However, he suggested that even amid a difficult economic period it was worth it.
“This [cost] has to be weighed against the value of what we have to protect and what we stand to lose if we do not act,” Bishop Atherley cautioned.
“These include our economic health and well-being, already under stress; our primary foreign exchange earner and major employment sector, the tourism industry; our reputation as a people for social stability; our law and order and governance profile; [and] our sense of security at the level of the home and private enterprise.”
Bishop Atherley was adamant that Barbados has too much to lose not to act and do so quickly.
However, he is not supportive of any move to treat crime as a public health threat, cautioning that could lead to undesirable outcomes.
Bishop Atherley said he fears there could be an abuse of state power and a denial of access to justice if a state of emergency, such as that which accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, was extended to the management of crime.
There have recently been calls in the Senate and from several experts and organisations for gun crime to be treated as a public health issue.
However, Bishop Atherley said: “I wish to urge significant caution and express serious concern over that trend of thought which seems to be emerging at the regional level and which suggests that violent crime be treated as a public health threat in a similar fashion as COVID.
“When one considers that the declaration and establishment of states of emergency regimes with implications for the exercise of state power and the abridging of the freedoms and rights of individuals have principally constituted the context in which we have lived since 2020, then one is alerted to the potential dangers for abuse of power as well as denial of access to justice for individuals as would normally be the case.”
The former Opposition Leader warned that “the potential for intrusion on persons’ private property, the implications for arrests and detention other than under normal course of law and process, delays in access to justice, potential political motivation to authority action, curtailing of freedom of movement, assembly and activity are all likely realities”.
In neighbouring Jamaica, states of emergency (SOEs) were recently declared in several parishes across the island to curtail gang-related crime and enhance public safety and security. However, the Opposition refused to support the extension of those SOEs.