Statement by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister and Minister of National Security at a Press Conference to Showcase the Weapons Recovered through the Peace Initiative Tuesday, August 13, 2019 at the Police Training Complex, Basseterre

My fellow citizens and residents, I commend the efforts of our law enforcement Team in maintaining the peace and quiet in our Country and for keeping our people safe.

Successful Effort to Take Firearms off Streets
Our Commissioner of Police has outlined a successful operation to rid our Country of illegal weapons.  Excellent work by the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force has led to them securing thirty (30) dangerous firearms which are on display to the media today.  The last batch of weapons was secured last Friday, August 09, 2019.  I understand that this batch of 30 guns was given up voluntarily as a demonstration of the commitment by gang members to the peace of our beloved Country.  This is an historic development and augurs well for the peace and security of our beloved Federation.

Yesterday our Cabinet met in a special session to receive a report on this matter from Mr Hilroy Brandy, Acting Commissioner of Police and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) McCarta Browne.  Cabinet commended the Police on this major breakthrough.  The intermediaries that facilitated this historic development have done yeoman’s service for our beloved Country.  It is instructive that gang members volunteered to give up their weapons as a sign of their commitment to peace.  This is a very good move.  And we encouraged them to bring forward all guns in their possession.

Every illegal firearm recovered by our law enforcement represents one less dangerous weapon available to injure and kill our people.

With these 30 guns, the total firearms now taken from the streets total forty-three.  These 43 guns represent a significant number but more than this, they represent a significant removal of weapons which could be used to injure, harm and kill our people.

Since 1995 we have witnessed not only in St. Kitts but also in Nevis unprecedented levels of violent crimes.  Indeed in 2003, St. Kitts and Nevis for the first time since Independence recorded double digit (10) homicides and in 2011, we reached an all time dangerous level of 35 homicides for that year.

Our Government starts from the philosophy that the loss of one life is one life too many and we remain committed to do all that we can to contain, reduce and eventually eradicate gang related homicides which have been the principal cause of violent deaths in our Federation.  There is no magic wand.  And the culture that provided fertile ground for gang development will take time to be effectively reordered for the better.

Our Country is too small, too limited in its manpower resources to lose persons, particularly our young, in the prime of their lives to gang related violence.   We have since 1995 been paying too great a price in the blood of our people.

Our Government has been working to restructure and reinvigorate our society to ensure that every citizen and resident can play a constructive role in nation building.  We seek to imbue, inter alia, values of love, patriotism, national pride, industry, respect and civility in all in society.

My Government’s response to secure the public’s safety and security has been far reaching.  We have increased our National Security budgetary allocations to the highest level ever of $80.4 million in 2019.  Our record of support for National Security is the best ever.  We have given support to the reform of our criminal justice system, increased the number of Judges available to dispense justice, and implemented much-needed social interventions such as the build-out of the Explorers Club as a specific initiative of our Community Policing Strategy. Today the Explorers Club is the single largest Youth Group in our Federation with over 750 registered members.

We Must Do It Together
I maintain, as I have before, that although the Team Unity Government is committed to do all that we can, we cannot do it alone.  My Cabinet and I are therefore appreciative of the hard work and tireless dedication of some very patriotic residents and citizens who, with the support of law enforcement, have undertaken to engage with gang members, as well as with other vulnerable members of the society who have been exposed to, and/or are at risk of being influenced by, the negative gang culture.

Specifically, through a series of dialogues intended to better understand why people are attracted to gang life, these broad-based initial engagement and intervention teams on both St. Kitts and Nevis have been holding productive discussions with gangs.  Their fruitful conversations explore alternative pathways and possibilities with the ultimate goal of gang members relinquishing a life of crime for the opportunity to pursue a legal and legitimate way of living and earning.  The initial engagement and intervention teams comprise people from the business community, church and civil society organizations, the education sector, the social services field, as well as other areas of productive endeavour on the islands of Nevis and St. Kitts.   I commend these courageous, selfless patriots for undertaking a very risky assignment.

Good News
The good news is that their work, in particular their attempts to effect a fundamental mental shift and a sense of social responsibility in gang members – coupled with appropriate policing strategies – have brought us to the point where today we can speak to very positive results.

  1. From January 01 to August 12, 2019 compared to the same period in 2018 we have experienced a significant 28 percent reduction in major crimes and a 25 percent reduction in homicides in our Federation.  For the period March 01 to August 12, 2019 compared to said period last year homicides are down 71 percent. Our Police Officers and Defence Force deserve commendation.  Our people feel safer.  Between February 26 and now, there has not been one single gang related homicide.  We can truly say since February peace and security have abound in this beautiful federation which we call home.  We commend all our citizens and residents for this.
  2. Robberies and non fatal shootings are down by 14 percent and 30 percent respectively.  For the period of the peace initiative March 01 to August 12, 2019 non fatal shootings are down by a whopping 70 percent year on year.
  3. Our gains in crime fighting are conducive to a safer and more prosperous business environment, as well as universal enjoyment of peace and tranquillity, greater mobility, confidence and a sense of ease.
  4. The crime reduction has also brought about a better state of affairs in the administration of the Police Force.  No longer does it have to overextend its resources.  In fact, the Police Force has significantly reduced the excessive overtime demand on its law enforcement officers, resulting in them now having more family time, rest and vacation leave.  We are indebted to the Defence Force and the Customs and Excise Department for unprecedented cooperation with the Police.
  5. Our ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are spared the stress and challenges of having gang members warded at our hospitals which have been the site of reprisal attack by rival gang members.   To beef up security – and much to the satisfaction of workers at the JNF Hospital –  twenty-four hour security was implemented at the JNF Hospital more than two years ago, and we are working to implement this nation-wide at the soonest possible time.
  6. Our festivals and other high-profile events such as Culturama, Green Valley, Music Festival and White Sands have all been relatively incident free. This has redounded to the benefit of not only our citizens and residents, but also to our law enforcement officers who protect them.  ACP Adolph Adams has reported that the Police did not have to curtail rest days for its staff during the Music Festival.  The 2019 Culturama was largely secured by our resident law enforcement contingent on the island of Nevis with minimal supplemental support from Basseterre.  This was because the environment was adjudged to be very safe.  As a matter of fact, the Nevis Division reported that this was the safest Culturama – in terms of reports of crime and violence – that has been experienced in recent times.  Something good is happening in our Country whereof we are glad.
  7. Several peace concerts have been held as former gang members work to demonstrate their commitment to live in peace with themselves and others and to cease threatening behaviours towards each other and to live together in accordance with our laws.  These peace concerts have all been violence free and have promoted goodwill and consideration between hitherto rival factions.  The peace concerts have also provided alternative pathways for legitimate entrepreneurial activities to be undertaken.  These are positive developments and we must encourage our young people as they take a turn for the better.
Despite these significant successes, none of us should lay down our guard.  For our part, our Government will continue to beef up our security through implementation of CCTV programmes, expansion of our forensic services, adequate provisioning for law enforcement, training, etc.  We ask the business community to continue to invest in the security of their businesses because it is better to be safe than sorry.  We ask our citizens and residents to uphold the law and report those who are not complying.  If you see something awry please say something to the Police.  A big thank you is extended to all who are bringing information to the Police and to all who are cooperating with law enforcement.  We welcome the positive changes that we are seeing in our Country.

Way Forward
Our Government shall continue to do all that we can to encourage persons away from a life of crime and other anti-social behaviours.  We are encouraged by the positive movements so far through the peace initiatives.  We will:

  1. Continue to invest in social programmes for our young people, providing them with mentorship support in an environment that builds favourable perceptions of law enforcement and promotes the need for them to support law and order and be role models for their family, community and wider society.  This is largely what our Explorers Club has been doing.
  2. Expand our Alternative Pathway Programme, providing more opportunities for persons to participate meaningfully in nation building and to eschew crime.  We will include them in social programmes, help them to find jobs, scale up our programmes to prevent recidivism in our prisons and detention centres and we will offer opportunities for them to gain financial support to start businesses on terms that enable a fresh start.  We will give support to those wanting to exit gangs.
  3. For 2019, and beyond, establish a more targeted programme to help victims of violence generally and of gang related violence/homicide in particular.  The victims of crimes fall into two categories: (i) family members of persons who have died as a result of crime and violence, and (ii) family members of those who have been the perpetrators of these offences and who may even now be in prison.  The aim is to help them  to better cope through a variety of targeted interventions including sustained counselling, social assistance to children who would have lost their bread winner to gang violence, locating and matching vulnerable children with responsible adults.
  4. Seek the ongoing involvement of Professionals like Dr. Cherese Godwin, Psychologist in the employment of National Security; Dr. Sharon Gopaul-McNicol, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist; Permanent Secretary, Osmond Petty, and others in the conceptualizing and build out of these programmes.  We will welcome other professionals to be part of this group.
Cabinet has recently approved a Multi-Cultural/ Multi-Modal/ Multi-Systems grass roots Model proposed by the Ministry of National Security as the structure for encouraging and assisting gang members to exit gangs. The idea of the Multi-Systems model is that in order to eradicate social diseases like crime, many relevant systems and critical persons have to be involved.  The intention is to build Community Teams in different geographical areas around St. Kitts and Nevis with each team consisting of: (i) community workers who were born and/or reside within – and are familiar with the ‘happenings’ in – a particular community, (ii) religious leaders, (iii) community leaders, (iv) youth leaders, (v) Community Police Officers, and (vi) representatives of political parties.

We aim to create a well adjusted society where all feel a part and are constructively prepared and engaged to do positive things in support of nation building.  We hope overtime (the sooner the better) that gang culture and all the negative attendants will become elements of the past.

Let us consecrate the future.  Let us build a kinder and gentler society.  Let us support law and order.

We appreciate the significant gesture by those who have handed over their firearms and we call on all residents and citizens to turn in any unlicensed firearm in their possession.  Do this for our Country.  Do this for your family and Country. Do this for yourself.  The life you save may very well be your own.

I thank you!