The Police, Crime And Criminality
HOUSE OF LABOUR: Given the revelation of the Lorequin Commission of Inquiry regarding the alleged criminal conduct of individuals of the Defence Force and the shortcomings of the police force, Bahamians should be critically concerned about the level of criminality in the Bahamas. Bahamian workers these days are living behind barbed wire fences, steel barred windows and doors because of the fear of crime- despite the high profile of the police and their high-powered public relations campaign.
Crime in the Bahamas continues to climb despite mounting national concern, the introduction of stiffer penalties for offenders and increased police visibility throughout local communities. The crime figures for this year are expected to continue the upward spiral and all indications are that crime will continue to mushroom.
In almost every area of serious crime, the trend continues to be a movement upward – upward in terms of both quantity and severity. Most social analysts do not wish to accept the quarterly figure that the police some times use to justify their approach to crime as correct. Statistics can be manipulated unless the whole picture is given.
The crime issue has been the subject of widespread public debate and will continue to be an issue of national importance. Before coming to power the PLP had foreshadowed taking a heavier hand in the control of crime and in the administration of justice. From subsequent debates in the House of Parliament, many politicians seemed prepared to deny convicts all civil liberties and to transform the Bahamas into a police state in the name of combating crime; and, on this wave of alarmism, support could be galvanized for laws with stiffer penalties for criminal offenses, for capital punishment and for the enforcement of archaic laws mandating the beating of convicts as part of sentencing.
Despite all of these perceived crime-fighting initiatives, there has been no noticeable impact on the crime crisis. As a matter of fact, a more daring and open element has been added to criminal activity in recent years and even some members of the police force (past and present) have been accused of working on the opposite side of the law and in engaging in misconduct in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases.
While crime continues to escalate and officials persist in suppressing crime statistics, the gloom of rampant social and economic hardship are overtaking Bahamian communities and strangling the hopes and aspirations of law abiding citizens. These communities are becoming incubators for infectious criminal mentality and a social decadence that touches every strata of Bahamian society. The more people know about the crime problem, as it exists in the Bahamas, the more intelligently they can approach the question of solution. Holding back the crime statistics the way it is practiced now runs counter to this idea and is a tremendous disservice to the public who, in the end, are victimized by the epidemic.
“Varnished Brass”, a book by John Gregory Dunne has these opening lines: “What most people do not understand about policemen is that they are bureaucrats and, no matter how dedicated, all but the most exceptional adhere to that most fundamental commandment of any bureaucracy – “protect your backs”.
There are, however, fundamental facts about police work that most people do not understand and seem to forget. One of these facts is that in our class divided society, policemen like all workers are exploited. They are also used as instruments of coercion and enforcement by the ruling class. We know that the ruling class in societies like our own consists of the monies interests for whose benefits the laws are passed. Because of their special role, the police are usually the object of the anger and the frustration of the people, when the real oppressors are the members of the ruling class who make the laws and in effect give the orders. Given what has been said, when things go sour for the rulers as we are now witnessing, the policemen are the first to be sacrificed and thrown to the wolves. It is because of occupational hazards like these that policemen even more than other “bureaucrats”, adhere to the bureaucrat’s commandment – “protect your back”
It is also true that because of the nature of his work, we tend to think that the policeman is different from other workers. He is not. Conditions in society, which affect other workers, also affect the policeman. He has a wife who goes to the food store and must decide what will be cut from the shopping list because her budget is too small. He has a child with promise attending a government school, but he knows that his dreams for his child and the profession that he has in mind for it may not materialize, unless he can get him or her into St. John’s College, Queen’s College, or similar schools. It is to the private schools that senior police officers and the other privileged members of society send their children, and average workers are killing themselves trying to send their children to such schools. It should be obvious by now that the average policeman faces the same obstacles that stem form class and privilege as his fellow workers.
The typical rank and file policeman is tired of paying rent, but even with their combined salaries, his wife and himself still have difficulty saving the down payment for a home of their own. He like the average worker also has a car, which it seems is always in need of expensive repairs, but he has to scrap the money, for the car is absolutely essential for family transportation. The policeman or policewoman like every other worker must also contend with the emergencies which make demands onto heir inadequate salary, so he or she is denied luxuries and has to scuffle just to meet medical and dental bills.
What makes the policemen’s plight even worse, is that in neocolonial countries such as the Bahamas, they work under an archaic and repressive colonial system that gives a minimum of expression to the aspirations of the rank and file. In some cases, it is very dehumanizing. Most policemen despite all this talk about a ‘new police force’ and devolution are concerned, that the colonial masters have not left. The same rigid, hierarchical system, which our former English masters, established in the colony to keep the native policeman in his place, still exists.
In the Bahamas, rank and file policeman constantly complain of favoritism and victimization in the department but have few avenues for redress. Many would leave the force immediately, if they were not trapped by a contract and if there were other jobs available.
Finally, it is true that most policemen are honest and try to do the best job they can. However, with the recent charges of brutality as dishonesty, it is easy to think otherwise.
Charles Fawkes is President of the National Consumer Association, Consumer columnist for the Nassau Guardian and organizer for the Commonwealth Group of Unions, Editor of the Headline News, The Consumerguard and The Worker’s Vanguard. He can be contacted at his office in the House of Labour at 326-6620. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.