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Editors note:This article was published in Editorial Section of the Feb 6, 2009 issue of The Chronicle Newspaper.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s powerful message of zero tolerance for crime, especially gun crime, is timely and welcome but certain aspects of the fight against crime still need urgent attention.

It is heartening that the Skerrit administration is seeking to expand the capacity of the police force and toughen laws to deal with rising crime. It is particularly encouraging that Government intends to bring the laws of Dominica up to speed with the technology available today, to enable prosecutors to present evidence that would not be admissible under current laws.

If all goes well, Dominica can expect the net of the law to catch more perpetrators of crime and those caught would face stiffer penalties. But if the police catch more criminals and the courts deal with them more severely, certain loose ends in the country’s justice system need to be tied before the crime fighting package can be properly secured.

One of these loose ends has to do with ensuring that the wheels of justice turn more quickly. As the drive against crime gains momentum, it would be essential to ensure that the courts have the capacity to deal with any increased volume of cases that may occur. It would certainly be counter-productive if the court system cannot absorb the increase in cases that are likely to result from more intense police activities.

Another loose end involves preserving the integrity of the justice system. It is no secret that the results of certain high profile court cases have been highly controversial and in the eyes of many persons, justice did not appear to be done. If the drive against crime is to succeed, integrity of the courts is paramount. Appropriate mechanisms must be put in place to protect the justice system from being tainted by corruption at all levels, from the police investigation through the courts to the prison system.

Another loose end that needs to be tied is the nation’s capacity to accommodate persons who have been detained for criminal activities. It is necessary to ensure that detention centres are adequate and can keep pace with any increase in the number of detainees that may result from expanded police activities. In this area, the government and law enforcement officials need to look at whether detention facilities are secure; comply with health, sanitation and nutrition standards; provide accommodation that is appropriate for the age and gender of the detainees with separation of juvenile offenders and serious offenders from other detainees.

If these loose ends are tied, Dominica has every chance of keeping crime at a manageable level and preserving the peaceful existence we have come to know and love.

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In light of three gruesome murders last week, as well an unmistakable increase in violent, drug-related crimes, we in Dominica must be aware of not reaching that tipping point where crime would outstrips the capacity of the police and the lives of law-abiding citizens are change dramatically.

Unfortunately, evidence is emerging that there is a growing culture of violence in Dominica that appears to be directly linked to the illegal drugs trade. No one needs to be told what lies further down this road; the uncontrollable state of crime in certain Caribbean nations is well known. Fortunately for us here in Dominica, there is still time to reverse this growing tend if the government, the police force and all other stakeholders take meaningful action now.

The Dominica Police Force has served the island well, up to this point. I have every reason to believe that the lawmen are well aware that in order to fight against the drugs trade and associated evils worldwide, But in order for us to successfully cut down on the amount of illicit drugs on the island there must be a change in the area of intelligence gathering and surveillance by our policemen.

It is extremely encouraging to see that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is fully aware of the importance of the against the illicit drugs trade and has taken steps to strengthen the police force with experienced law enforcement professional form the Diaspora.

If these lawmen can resist the drug trade so forceful that it drives up drug dealer’s risks and costs; just maybe these drug dealers will shift their operators to places where it is easier and cheaper for them to do business.

But will this prevent Dominica from reaching the tipping point with regard to violent crime on the island?

Let’s hear your opinion in the comments below.

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The current drive by the Dominica Police force to establish a strong “community policing” component is timely, necessary and promises to yield substantial benefits for the nation.

In the past, communities tended to leave crime fighting almost entirely up to the police, but times have changed. Crime has become more pervasive and sophisticated, requiring a more broad-based response from police and society. It is now imperative that law-abiding residents of each town, village and community become more vigilant and active in the fight against crime and interact more closely with the police.

There is ample evidence of an insidious rise in crime in Dominica. There is a marked increase in violent crime and the emergence of new types of crime; crimes like drug dealing, money laundering and internet scams were unknown in former times. Today’s children are exposed to more crime and violence than any generation in recent memory. It is essential that citizens and police join forces to fight crime on every front, from neighborhoods to homes.

Members of the police force must do everything in their power to encourage citizens to redouble their own efforts to reduce crime in their communities. They must liaise with citizens to establish a culture of judicious discernment of and reporting of crime in each neighborhood, as well as relentless advocacy of community programmes to alleviate social problems that create the breeding grounds for crime.

Citizens must be encouraged to move away from their reliance on the police and government to lead the way in fighting crime. Law-abiding citizens can take responsible actions themselves to prevent increasing crime in society. With appropriate guidance and support from police, they can organise themselves into groups and by their collective efforts make significant headway by establishing new limits on crime in their own communities.

Specifically, law-abiding persons in all neighborhoods can raise their communities’ awareness of potential sources of violence and crime. They can spread the word about these sources and campaign strenuously against them. The primary objective would be to get a community commitment to rooting out crime in all its forms. By banding together and with the support of the police they can detect and prevent crime
in its embryonic stages.

Maximum community policing awareness can be the launching pad for the creation of a crime-free environment for each family in each community. By community policing efforts, families can make their homes safer. They can identify crime sources that are specific to their communities and work collectively to eliminate them. The police can develop a more meaningful rapport with such communities, enabling them to get greater information and intelligence about crime and function more effectively.

Through community policing initiatives, households and communities can become more vigilant against crime by themselves, in a reasonable and balanced manner. By their involvement in community policing, citizens can establish guidelines and mechanisms for effective crime fighting. They can create neighborhood networks to detect and respond to crime. By collective vigilance they can more easily and effectively uncover and deal with crime.

Community policing provides citizens with an excellent opportunity to make a more direct contribution to the fight against crime and it also enhance the capacity of the police to do their work. The public should give community policing their wholehearted and unreserved support.

This article was published in the editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper – Issue: August 1st, 2008.

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