Ministerial Statement by the Minister of National Security, The Hon. Wayne M. Caines, JP, MP
Mr. Speaker, this government promised the people of Bermuda that we would “give reducing gang violence the priority it deserves.” Since 2009, 35 young black men have been shot and killed; 92 people have been injured by an illegal fire arms; and over 400 of our young people are deemed “at risk” of falling prey to the gang lifestyle.
Mr. Speaker, it is this government’s hope to work in partnership with all aspects of the community to address multi-generational unaddressed trauma and to put long term solutions in place. In July 2017, I formed the Ministry of National Security’s Violence Reduction Team to engage all sectors of the community to address crime and violence. We are determined to change the narrative to reflect an approach that does not solely target the proven risk population but develops a cultural shift that supports all of the young men and women in Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, as promised in the First 100 Days Platform, Pastor Leroy Bean was hired as the Gang Violence Reduction Coordinator. Pastor Bean joined the Ministry’s Violence Reduction Team which also includes the Policy and Project Coordinator and the Group Violence Intervention Project Manager. Pastor Bean’s primary focus is on implementing programmes that reduce gang violence and anti-social behavior in partnership with Bermuda’s clergy, employers and schools. This partnership aims to offer options for those wishing to transition away from the gang lifestyle with viable social and economic alternatives.
Mr. Speaker, in the short time that he has been on the team I have been impressed by the depth of Pastor Bean’s knowledge of the issues and his tremendous reach into the affected communities.
Mr. Speaker, the Violence Reduction Team was built on the work that had been done before and in some cases the team sharpened its focus on strengthening existing programmes and securing the necessary resources to produce measurable outcomes. The team’s core goals and objectives are to:
- change the pattern of behavior of individuals involved in group and gang violence and reintegrate them back into mainstream society;
- prevent young people from joining gangs and engaging in anti-social behaviour;
- connect at-risk youth, men and women with the necessary helping agencies that will aid in addressing mental and social health issues; and
- Create opportunities of employment for those who may be have previously been deemed “unemployable” because of their past.
Mr. Speaker, Operation Ceasefire is an initiative that began in 2010. Over the years, the foundation has been remodeled and extended to support the creation of unique internal and external working groups dedicated to reducing violence in Bermuda. The Inter-Agency Gang Task Force (IGTF) and Inter-Agency Gang Enforcement Team (IGET) were implemented under the direction of the then Minister Lt. Col. Burch. Team Street Safe was championed by former PLP Minister Wayne Perinchief. And, the former OBA government introduced the Inter-Agency Community Response (ICR) and Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) All of these partnerships have been reenergized over the last 100 days. The Violence Reduction Team and the Chairpersons of each agency now meet monthly to implement and evaluate strategies.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will recall the subsisting relationship with the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College. I can advise this Honourable House that as part of that arrangement, NNSC staff conducted a site visit to Bermuda over 3-4th October to complete a two part problem analysis with law enforcement partners. The goal of this exercise was to capture frontline law enforcement intelligence which is critical to understanding the violence dynamics on the Island. The visit included sessions with members of the BPS, the Office of the DPP and Pastor Bean, Mr. Vernon Wears and Mr. Chae Powell of the Ministry.
The group reviewed all homicide and non-fatal shooting incidents between January 2009 and September 2017, as well as selected nonfatal stabbings between January 2016 and September 2017. Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this retrospective review was to determine the appropriate baseline against which all future violent incident data can be compared.
Mr. Speaker, we are using a multipronged holistic approach to combatting the growth of antisocial behavior and gun and knife violence in Bermuda. Our efforts include prevention, suppression and intervention at all levels. At the cornerstone of our approach is the proper use of a Group Violence Intervention Strategy comprised of the IGTF, IGET, and ICR working groups. These Inter-Agency working groups’ core mission is to advance Bermuda’s public safety interests and empower the community by leading and coordinating resources to reduce and prevent gang influence and gun violence. Our teams are interacting with all aspects of the community; in schools (with G.R.E.A.T and the school impact groups); on our streets before, during and after violent events, and by accessing and treating the root causes.
The Inter-Agency Gang Taskforce (IGTF) is the prevention arm. This group provides the overall coordination of the execution of the strategy and is particularly focused on the education component. Since July, Mr. Speaker, the IGTF has raised the level of awareness around the importance of prevention and in a targeted fashion is bringing the message aimed at prevention to all young people. This week, the team attended CedarBridge Academy and addressed S1 and S2 students around the pitfalls leading to violence and to create a culture within the school to combat anti-social behavior. Students heard from Pastor Bean, and the mother and brother of a stabbing victim. Focus groups will now be organized where real conversations with former inmates and those now out of the gang lifestyle will share stories of transition for the benefit of at-risk young people. This will be done throughout our schools taking a direct message of hope and life to our young people. The effort in schools includes structured contact with PTAs where, with the assistance of a moderator from our team, they are challenged to determine how they will combat anti-social behavior and create an accountability model using their own existing structure and influence within the school and student body.
Mr. Speaker, prevention will be the key to success in stemming violence in Bermuda. If we spend it now… we will reap the benefits in the future. On November 12th, our young people started to create their soundtrack for stop the violence message in Bermuda. The LIVE. LOVE. LIFE. Stop the Violence Competition” Youth edition
met its aim to engage our young people in a creative way to raise awareness about addressing violence and anti-social behaviour. Once again, I would like to thank the winners:
- The Dellwood Middle School T.E.A.M (Taking Edutainment Above Mediocrity) – Performance title – “When Will Enough Be Enough?”
- The West End Warriors,
- Simeon Pearman,
- Northland Primary School Choir, and
- All the judges, sponsors, schools, parents and teachers for their support and contribution towards making this event a success.
Mr. Speaker, the Team StreetSafe model remains in operation and is led by Executive Director Kim Jackson of Mirrors and Programme Manager Chae Powell of the Ministry. Since Mr. Powell’s engagement two part-time community outreach workers have been hired. They are the “eyes and ears” of the organization keeping a firm handle on the pulse of the streets and work to provide “a way out” for those who are involved in the gang lifestyle or anti-social behavior. These men are in the very heart of affected neighbourhoods calming tensions and providing support and opportunities to numerous young men. Their work will soon be supported by the secondment of a case manager from within the Public Service. There is a clear need and I will be looking for the support of ministerial colleagues and the leadership of the Public Service to fulfill this need.
Mr. Speaker, intervention is the responsibility of the Inter-Agency Community Response (ICR). This team is led by Pastor Bean and includes public and private sector partners representing various agencies. Their intervention to date has been genuinely felt within the community. A Co-ordinated Crisis Response Team operates under the ICR and this is the team that was onsite at the recent shooting. In tense and trying conditions they provided crisis counselling to residents who witnessed the tragic events of that night. The very next day a community hub was established at the local church and a second team went door to door providing further support and offering much-needed guidance on services to residents. Mr. Speaker, I was impressed by their diligence and this was appreciated by the residents of the area who opened up to them and availed themselves of the services on offer.
As part of the continuing intervention efforts, with my colleague the Minister of Education we are working on refreshing the results of the Trauma Indicator Checklist which was used some time ago as a means of isolating at-risk students in our schools. Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, the aim is to partner with The Ministry of Education in developing pathways to success for our students leading most importantly to a pathway to careers.
Mr. Speaker, no strategy in this area can effectively work without strong law enforcement. The Inter-Agency Gang Enforcement Team (IGET) is comprised of the BPS, Corrections, Immigration, Education, Customs, Mirrors and the Office of the DPP as well as the GVI Project Manager. This group meets to share intelligence and is focused on suppression of violence in the community. This joined up approach targets likely offenders and seeks to reduce their propensity to engage in anti-social behavior.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, with the Department of Court Services, the BPS has re-established Operation Nightlight which provides an extra layer of oversight on parolees and probationers.
Mr. Speaker, there are a number of prevention and intervention strategies that the Violence Reduction Team is currently readying for roll out to the public. Initiatives include:
- A Job Fair (in partnership with the Department of Workforce Development);
- 21 2 2 – A job placement plan for young men between 18-35 years old;
- Peacebuilders (Bermuda’s national helpers);
- MOM Bermuda – “The Power of the Call” at 6pm on November 30th at St. Paul Centennial Hall; an event designed to continue the support to mothers affected by violence;
- More Family Support Groups; a fathers group has been organized and has met;
- Developing community capacity for extended Coordinated Crisis Response teams (CCR);
- A national day of prayer;
- A remodeled Team Street Safe led by Kim Jackson and Chae Powell; and
- The review and implementation of the John Jay College model of Group Violence Intervention aka Operation Ceasefire.
Mr. Speaker, this work is not easy. We are engaged in reversing trends that have spent decades in the making. The systemic devaluation of black men in this country is so pervasive that we must start by shifting how we raise our sons in this Bermuda. When we value them more and show it by ensuring that there is a place for them to execute their aims and aspirations for life, then they will value themselves. At the core of this societal phenomenon is the human value we ascribe to each other and what we accept as normal in Bermuda.
The change required will not come overnight but starts with hearing and acknowledging the voices of today that are victims of a system designed to suppress and exclude them. This is the first step, followed closely by immediate action to create opportunity for them.
Mr. Speaker, as a society we have flirted with just what to call the issue of violence. Once and for all it is time to properly frame our approach to violence in this community: this is a public health crisis. This means that we can no longer focus solely on shooting which is the most recognizable symptom of the crisis. A public health approach demands that we focus on root causes and elevate addressing them to the same level of importance as our usual reactions to violence itself.
There is some considerable practical and academic support for this approach. Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murphy recently lamented that governments don't treat gun crime as a public health threat. He said and i concur that "It should be no different than the approach we take to cancer, heart disease or diabetes."
Mr. Speaker, just this week I met with Dr. Phillip Leaf of Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Leaf is eminently qualified as a Professor in the Dept. of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health & Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Education, and Arts and Sciences and also is the Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health, the Director, Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, and the Sr. Associate Director, Urban Health Institute. He is an authority in this area and I look forward to sharing with honorable members greater detail around our discussions and how I think the approach he has pioneered can be adopted in support of our efforts in Bermuda.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.