Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Dropping the ball

Anthony Ferguson.

A disturbing pattern has developed over the years where police fail to consistently report sex crimes to the public.

Every morning when we check the crime report sent to the media, we are informed of murders, shootings and stabbings that leave victims in hospital, armed robberies, attempted robberies and other crimes here and there.

While sometimes there are sexual assault cases reported, we are often worried when we learn about sex crimes – even rape sprees – that have gone unreported.

Last Tuesday, police reported that two girls were sexually assaulted in separate incidents.

The first incident happened on April 28 on Bahama Avenue, off Baillou Hill Road.  The second happened last week Monday. The police report on both incidents was sent out after claims were made on social media that two girls were raped.

We do not know whether the social media reports prompted the police to issue their report, but it is concerning that police did not report to the public that a six-year-old girl was assaulted more than two weeks earlier.

Police have not yet provided a clear explanation on why they did not report the first crime and why they waited more than 24 hours to report the second one – the assault of a girl, 12.

One senior police officer told us the first matter was reported to a police station and the matter was somehow not relayed to the police press liaison officer.

Last Tuesday, we also asked Chief Superintendent Solomon Cash why the April 28 incident was not reported earlier so that the public could have been on alert for the child predator.

Cash said, “I’m not in a position to say that we didn’t report it. We report all incidents of crimes.”

But police had not initially reported that first incident.

According to her family, the girl was dragged behind a building by a man who pulled down her underwear and appeared set to rape her, but ran off after he was spotted by someone. This is chilling.

Police said the second victim was walking on Darling Street, off Wulff Road, next to Stephen Dillet Primary School, when she was assaulted. This is also quite chilling.

On Friday, Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson of the Bahamas Crisis Centre decried the two-week delay in authorities reporting the alleged sexual assault of the six-year-old girl.

Patterson said it is critical for the public to be made aware of these matters as soon as they occur.

She expressed concern with what she said has become a pattern concerning reports on rapes.

“In the years I have been doing this work, which is many, many years, very infrequently do police talk about sexual assault,” Dean-Patterson observed.

“You know, a little girl went out to put garbage in her garbage bin and she was abducted, taken off and raped, and it was not reported.”

Superintendent Mark Barrett, the officer in charge of the South Central Division, suggested to us last week that the sensitive nature of the investigation prompted police on a course of action that did not involve reporting the matter immediately.

This is illogical and should alarm all Bahamians.

Imagine being a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a god parent, or just a concerned citizen, and learning that police kept quiet about a child predator on the loose?

This is not acceptable.

We have watched police in the past try to fumble their way through explaining why they failed to report sex crimes in the hours and days after they occurred.

For some reason, they have a culture of keeping quiet in this regard.

In 2012, then Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade and his team of senior officers found themselves embroiled in controversy over their silence after receiving multiple rape reports.

It took a Nassau Guardian reporter pressing the then Assistant Commissioner Anthony Ferguson before he confirmed they were investigating a spike in rapes.

Ferguson is today commissioner of police.

In 2012, chatter about these matters was loud on social media even before police made their confirmation and finally issued a warning.

While many people depend on social media for information, many people are often not sure whether to believe what they read until reports are confirmed by police and published in local dailies.

The initial silence of police on the 2012 incidents eroded public confidence, in our view.

As Barrett did just last week, Greenslade at the time suggested police were merely protecting identities.

“I have everyone telling us what we should and should not do. You have to understand that on the other side of this discussion are innocent victims and their families whose identities must be protected and whose location must be protected,” the then commissioner said.

But no one – in or outside the police department – was able to explain how a generic warning on rape would identify victims.

In October 2011, Paul Rolle, then a superintendent in charge of the Central Detective Unit, struggled to explain why the sexual assaults of two boys had not been made public.

Kofhe Eduardo Goodman was charged with having sex with two 12-year-old boys. (Goodman was later convicted of the murder of Marco Archer, 11).

Asked whether he saw wisdom in the general public being told of sex crimes so they could be on alert, Rolle said in 2011, “I believe that there is a need for the public to know that a particular crime has happened.

“I believe we should also say where it has happened, to a certain extent, because we are also guarded and guided by certain laws when you are dealing with juveniles.”

He noted that police do not have a policy of withholding information or statistics, but noted that police would not do anything to jeopardize investigations.

Rolle indicated that it was not practical to report all crimes to the public daily.

“When you look at all the various crimes taking place throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, you can’t get a daily crime report,” he said. “That is why we give an annual crime report.”

The statement seemed to miss the point of people’s right to know.

Police seemingly failed to see how their reporting of these crimes could prevent others from becoming victims.

In the past, there has been a wider discussion over whether police suppress crime reports.

In 2014, Dr. Duane Sands (the now minister of health) highlighted that police statistics on shootings and rapes are notably lower than records kept by Princess Margaret Hospital.

Bahamians and other people who reside and visit here should be alert at all times and exercise good sense so as not to make themselves easy targets of criminals.

But if there is a sex crime in a particular area – particularly if the suspect is at large – it is irresponsible of the police not to make that known.

There is an urgent and compelling need for a change of culture in the Royal Bahamas Police Force as it regards what crimes it chooses to report and when.

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