Good afternoon and thank you for coming.
In the few, short weeks since the General Election, we have seen evidence of the importance of continuing the work to provide a safe community for all who live and work in Bermuda.
Violence and anti-social behaviour must be addressed. Strong enforcement is a large part of the solution but we must also address the root causes of the violence and ongoing gang activity. Solutions to these problems demand a cohesive approach in education, in our homes and families, by our churches and in every institution playing a part in Bermudian life.
The impact of poor educational outcomes and income inequality must now for m the foundation of our understanding and drive the work to find solutions.
In the short time since my appointment as Minister of National Security I have taken the opportunity to listen and understand what systems and processes exist to deal with the varied effects of violence on this community. It is clear that from 2009 when we saw an increase in gun crime, both Administrations have sought to combat the gang lifestyle. Much of what has been done over those years remains in place; but any system under stress needs to be refreshed and re-focused.
That is what we promised to do and that is what we have already set about doing. In our Platform we undertook to provide a singular focus on implementing programmes to reduce gang violence and anti-social behaviour. We promised to ensure opportunities for young people looking for a pathway out of gangs including assistance with resuming educational pursuits or skills training.
And most importantly, we recognized the importance of equipping parents, teachers and community leaders with training in identifying at-risk young people and intervening and preventing them from being caught-up in a cycle of violence.
The former Administration approved funding for the recruitment of additional officers for the Bermuda Police Service including new Bermudian recruits. Those efforts are in hand and I have met with the Commissioner to confirm my support for this increase in the BPS establishment. We rely on the Police to provide the strong enforcement required to meet violence and gang activity.
Their strategy calls for targeting and enforcement, community engagement and empowerment, all supported by community advisory groups. I endorse this strategy and whilst operational matters are for the Commissioner, I am determined to add the Ministry’s leadership galvanizing the community to play its part.
Our work in this area has already begun. We have formed a structure around programme development, project management, case management and emergency response to incidents.
This structure will include the Gang Violence Reduction Coordinator promised as part of our First 100 Days Platform initiative.
My aim today is to issue a community call to action. National economic success will yield no return if we cannot enjoy that success in safety.
Violence in this community is founded in systemic inequality and the solution will only be found with an “all-in” community approach. In the coming weeks the Ministry will be organizing structured outreach to members of the clergy and other leaders in the faith community. These men and women are this community’s leading “moral voices” and our intention is to expand the reach of those ministries and their authority to empower the congregations and communities they serve as a powerful means by which to stem the multi-generational trauma and the violence it causes.
Education and employment must be at the forefront of our efforts. With the support of my colleague, the Minister of Education, we will ensure the earliest possible intervention and provision of services to at-risk students. We cannot hope to START addressing gang behaviour or at-risk young people in high school or later. Parents must confront these issues and support teachers when they do so also.
The help is available and our task is to make sure that parents and teachers know this and know how to access the services they require.
Employment and the ability to earn a living wage remains at the heart of the solution to the historic income inequality that has bred the violence we now see manifested in gang activity. As we set about building an economy that works for everyone, I will be meeting with a broad, cross-section of employers to urge them to provide opportunities for men and women whose skills match their employee needs and where they may not, to commit to providing opportunities through training. Where people are willing to work we must do everything we can to help them earn the living wage that mitigates against alternative choices of illegal activity.
The former Inter-Agency Gang Taskforce will be re-activated to meet regularly, to share information and to serve as one of the key entities providing support to the efforts of the Police and those community partners already engaged in support to families affected by the trauma of violence and gang activity.
The Premier and my Cabinet colleagues have expressed their full support for these initiatives and as a government we know that every ministry, every department, every Authority or Quango has a vital role to play in making Bermuda safer for all.
Although these are early days in this Administration, the tone has been set for how critical it is to tackle the issue of violence in this community. We risk losing a generation if we fail.