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Building on success in the crime fight

Murder in The Bahamas began trending downward in the fourth quarter of 2017. It was a good sign, but after a decade of violence insufficient time had passed to assess a trend.

We all witnessed the bloody weekends in Nassau when four, five or six people were shot dead. The situation could have easily reverted in an instant.

The downward trend continued into 2018, however. And it has held to now. Murders in The Bahamas decreased by 36 percent between January and October 2018 compared to the same period last year.

There have been 74 murders for the year. This compares to the 116 murders during the 2017 period.

Between 2007 and 2017 there were five murder records. The Bahamas first surpassed the 100-murder mark in 2011. That year there were 127 murders. From 2011 to 2017 more than 100 murders were recorded each year. The worst year was 2015 when there were 146 murders.

The majority of these murders happened in New Providence. For example, between 2010 and 2015, 87 percent of the murders (627) occurred on our most populated island.

New Providence is a high-crime jurisdiction with significant drug trafficking and gang activity, high unemployment and low levels of education. Arguments and retaliations are the main causes of killings.

It is unclear as to what caused the murder decline. And we may never know. Researchers still don’t know, for example, what caused the remarkable decrease in crime in New York City the past few decades. There were 2,245 killings there in 1990. Last year there were 292. Crime in the city is down to levels not seen since the 1950s.

We think here that some credit should be given to Minister of National Security Marvin Dames, Commissioner Anthony Ferguson and the hardworking officers of the police force. They are leading reforms.

In his 2018 Policing Plan, Ferguson pledged to focus on crime hot spots, disrupt organized crime groups, pay special attention to at-risk youth groups, regularly share data on wanted persons, heighten police visibility through patrols, employ appropriate technology and forensic science capabilities and promote the activities of existing crime watch groups.

Last month, Ferguson said authorities continue to target prolific offenders and gangs.

Superintendent Shanta Knowles said police have reduced the number of officers on administrative duty and added them to uniform patrols.

Knowles said those patrols will continue throughout the holiday season.

All things are not perfect with policing. There needs to be consistency with visible patrols. But that is a structural problem linked to the shortage of cars and constables the government said it is addressing.

There are some who think this Free National Movement (FNM) administration has no successes. They lobby for the FNM’s defeat and the return of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The murder reduction is the greatest success under the FNM’s watch thus far. We should all hope it holds and there is a further decrease next year.

We have lost too many young people to senseless violence. And no, they were not all bad people killing bad people. Some were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some got in arguments and petty disputes that got out of control.

Based on international benchmarks, there should be 20 or fewer murders in The Bahamas per year. Even if we were to have a 30-plus percent reduction this year we have a long way to go to get to where we should be.

Nonetheless, the first step to change is important. And this year is on track to be different than any we have had for a while.

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