Concerned about the sharp spiral in violent crime in St. Lucia, the island’s law enforcement administrators say they are open to any assistance they can get from global law enforcement agencies, including the Toronto Police Service (TPS).
That country’s Minister of Home Affairs and National Security Guy Mayers and Acting Police Commissioner Vernon Francois met with Acting Chief Peter Sloly.
They were in Toronto for the St. Lucia Association of Toronto’s (SLAT) annual banquet marking the island’s 32nd independence anniversary. Mayers was the keynote speaker at last Saturday night’s event which Sloly attended.
St. Lucia, which has a population of about 165,000, has recorded 18 murders in the first two months of the year. Last year’s total of 48 was the highest since the island secured its independence on February 22, 1979.
“We want to build a relationship with Toronto Police that will help us strengthen our service,” Mayers, who co-owns the St. Lucia Mirror newspaper, told Share. “One of the things I would like to see is that our officers acquire specialized training by going overseas and working on a short-term basis with police services in Canada, the United States and England. That’s something we are pushing for to boost our police force.”
Francois agreed with Mayers, saying he would welcome a collaboration between his organization and the TPS which has always been at the forefront in the use of the latest cutting edge technology to aid investigations.
“If we can form an alliance with the Toronto Police, I will be very happy,” he said. “We are a small force, so any support we can get, we will take. We are open to any technical assistance we can get from any police service. We however do not need human resources since I believe we can handle our own problems and issues.”
Five years ago, the St. Lucia Labour Party government hired nine retired British police officers to assist in the re-organization of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force and help fight crime. The arrangement did not last long because of conflicts between the local police and their foreign counterparts.
Francois said his organization is in discussions with the University of Central Florida and the Florida National Guard for training for its officers.
In response to the escalation in violent crime, the Lucia police launched “Operation Restore Confidence” last month.
“We identified the hot spots on the island and are going after the handful of criminals who are causing the problems,” said Francois. “The majority of the public has supported this operation and so far we have recovered a significant number of firearms and drugs. I think we are on the right path as evidenced by the fact that there hasn’t been a murder so far in March.”
With tourism being St. Lucia’s main economic activity, Mayers said its incumbent on the government to ensure that the island is safe and secure.
“We can’t afford to allow criminals to take hold of the island and put it under siege,” he said. “We want our citizens, those nationals living overseas and other visitors to feel safe here. Crime, however, is a social problem requiring a multi-faceted approach. We will never be able to police our way out of crime, therefore crime prevention is important and all of the government agencies in partnership with civil society have to work together to create jobs and programs for our young people.”
Mayers said deportees have contributed to the rise in crime and sophistication of criminal activity, and he’s appealing to the developed countries, including Canada, to provide support because St. Lucia does not have the resources to adequately address deportees’ needs.
“We need to impress upon the more developed countries like Canada that they have a responsibility to support small islands like ours in rehabilitating those persons and providing a stable environment for them on returning to St. Lucia,” he said. “In many instances, they leave our shores as kids and they have no family ties or connections here. They learn their criminality in the more developed countries and are sent back to us, in some cases, with very little notice.
“We don’t have the resources to help them integrate into society. They come back with no money, job skills or family to reach out to and they are upset and angry with the society that has just taken them out of their comfort zone and tossed them into our lap. They become prime targets for our criminals on the ground and create more problems for our law enforcement officers that are already stretched to the limit.
“I contend that North America and Europe, by heaving that problem on us, is shooting themselves in the foot. We depend on tourism and most of our tourists are from these parts of the world that want us to make sure that their nationals are safe when they come to St. Lucia. Yet they are still sending us their hard core criminals without resources or other support.”
As part of the anniversary celebration, the SLAT honoured Hubert (Toes) Henry with the President’s Award for Service. Migrating to Canada in 1969, he supported the establishment of the SLAT and co-founded the Lodge of Odd Fellows, a brotherhood that supported young men. He was unable to attend the event because of illness.
The SLAT, headed by Janelle St. Omer, has launched a scholarship program to support a St. Lucian student at home and a young person of St. Lucian heritage residing in Canada.