Sunday, May 2, 2010

Newsflash

So much for not soap boxing it, but readers have expressed a desire for more, so just remember you asked for it. And this is a blog about island living. This is part of it.

I really debated posting this, as obviously Michael's job and other's depends on investors wanting to invest in the island. But I also believe that knowledge is power and feel that it's better to confront some things head on.The issue we're going to talk about is crime. Cue the scary music... You know, maybe the investors can help. One development will be installing a waste-management facility and desalination plant; why not assist the police force too? It's worth it to live in such a beautiful country and a good gift to give back to a place that has welcomed you. It could even be a money-making opportunity for someone with the right resources.

Plus, word is already spreading despite my silence so why not be part of the discussion? For anyone angry at me for even bringing it up - word to the wise - it's already getting out. I was recently asked by a couple we met last year considering moving here and who've been "hearing" things, what was going on over here, so why not address it in the open?

This is a fantastic island in so many ways (most of my blog entries reflect this) and it would be a shame for people to stop coming here - whether to visit or to live. Surely we can talk about what's both good and bad on the island and arm people with the information they need to make informed decisions. We have occasional power outages, food issues (improving though), high prices (it's an island), and crime (hey! sounds like my hometown of NY!) - so come anyway but bring a generator, ship your favorite goodies here, bring $ (or get connected), and be street smart (just like you likely are at home).

The lack of news here is amazing. I think the radio may be a good source, but I was never one for talk radio and can't make myself listen to it. Half the island had a 6-hour power outage on Wednesday and then a 3-hour one last Thursday. Most newspapers - paper and online - didn't even mention it. Jeez, in the U.S. you're inundated with so much "news" it's overwhelming; here, not so much. Is there no happy medium? I mean, if you're not reporting on 9 hours of power outages, what are you talking about? It certainly isn't crime.

Murders get published (although not followed up) but no one reports on the hundreds of break-ins (car and house) or recent phenomenon of armed hold-ups which we're disconcertingly finding to be a growing problem. Many students are finding themselves as targets and a friend's nephew was held up at gunpoint and relieved of $400 (it was his rent money) late one night last week. There's even car theft (unrecovered, no less!). Our property manager just sent out letters to all the tenants asking them to be vigilant about locking up and setting alarms as crime was up in the area (Frigate Bay). Just when I was wondering if the government was stifling the press here, the online news mentioned that they weren't having any luck getting the government to release any crime statistics.

Here's what the guy in charge had to say about that.

"I don’t want no debate, I don’t want anybody to engage me in any statistics. I am not interested."..."As I said, and I want to repeat, I am not going to be engaged in statistics…I don’t want nobody to compare last year with this year and 2004. That is not going to help us."

Is that code for they aren't keeping any statistics? Wouldn't surprise me. More likely, the statistics are incredibly bad when comparing this year to last year - and this year isn't even half way over yet. Just take a survey of the people living here and you might be able to get a pretty good idea of what's happening statistically. How much is rumor how much is truth? We'll never know because the police don't want to release any information.

He also said “I am interested if you have solutions, suggestions, advice. I am listening..." Oh well, then here are my thoughts.

So far, the government's response has been to put more uniforms in the cruise ship area (Basseterre) during the day. That's great and any potential cruise-ship passengers should be assured that I'm not aware of any prior ones being targeted and that they are very protected here. Keep coming and recommend others do too. But that's just the point - where there's a police presence, there's less crime. There is no police presence in the local communities; and lest they think the "rich" get preferential treatment, I have rarely seen a police officer in the Frigate Bay area either (day or night) or down the peninsula either (although there is security down there). How 'bout the officers skip some beauty sleep and beef up the police presence - everywhere (and even more so at night). The island's not that big for Pete's sake!

Maybe if the folks that have to pay for security billed the government for having to provide a basic civic service, there'd be more "interest" in the problem. At the very least, combine forces and get all security teams, including police, to work together (like a posse). And what the heck do the St. Kitts Security Forces (their army, basically) do, other than come out for special events? We still waiting for the Spaniards to come back and take back the fort? There is definitely a war going on here between the good and bad folks - bring out the heavy artillery! Surely there's something they can be doing to help short of marshall law. What is the Coast Guard doing - why aren't they searching the fishing boats for guns (and baby/pregnant lobsters)? There's only 1 way they can be getting here, by water, so get to it! And no, it's not the yachties.

Instead, they have 1 officer on at night who can't leave because he has to man the station. Does this make sense? Now they're putting in security cameras (UK-style) so the one guy can get in his car and drive around staring at his laptop able to respond to any calls. He's got to show up to an altercation by himself? I hope they don't think the cameras are going to take the place of the understaffed cops.

What needs to be done, and just about everyone knows it but the government, is that outside forces be brought in and do a sweep. The problem is that everyone knows everyone else on this island. So chances are the cops know the criminal and aren't going to be too keen to arrest their cousin or nephew. They haven't learned like other islands have (like Dominica) that everyone's livelihood depends on keeping people safe (locals and tourists). Once word gets out that crime is rampant and that the government isn't doing anything of note to stop it, people will stop coming, educated/skilled locals will leave for safer havens (like Canada, UK, or US), businesses will close, and the tax revenue the politicians are enjoying is going to dry up.

Dominica is still reeling from their reputation of years ago and it's a real shame because they really have done a great job resolving the problem. If anything happens now, all the islanders step up and track the bad guys down. Crime is bad for business and they know that they need to stop it in its tracks if they want to continue to make $. Tour guides there actually get fined if anything happens to "their" tourist. I hope Kittitians figure that out sooner rather than later.

As I said, many apartments and businesses have already stepped up and have their own security. Most people on the island are good and welcome tourists and investors with open arms. A lot of the crime is between criminals. It's important not to let paranoia set in (in a sense, the guy's right - statistics can scew perception). One of the reasons we moved here was because I felt that I could go running by myself and not feel uncomfortable. I, and lots of others I know, run for miles (alone) and feel perfectly safe. I didn't feel that way on many of the other Caribbean islands (and some US cities) we visited during our travels. We had the beach all to ourselves last weekend and I more than enjoyed it, but I also didn't have an expensive camera and $500 in my beach bag (nor would I have at the Jersey shore). But I also think people should know where the problem areas are, and that the cops should do something to fix it.

That's why action needs to be taken now. If more is not done soon, crime is going to be St. Kitts' worst kept secret. Parents are not going to send their kids to the university here (they have their own, uncensored, newspaper, the warnings are going out; and if enough students are targeted, whether its reported or not will be moot). Investors are going to pull out too as more and more incidents happen to those already here. The gap between the locals and newbies is going to grow bigger and more tenuous as the "outsiders" try to protect themselves by building walls, security gates, hiring guards, etc. and the "belongers" seethe with resentment that "their" island is being taken over. That attitude breeds contempt and a feeling that it's ok to steal from the "intruders" and tell them to go "home." If we wanted this, we'd have moved to Mexico.

The government needs to do more explaining to the islanders that tourism and outside investment is a good thing for the island and for them and to stop the backlash. Plenty of local business owners and the growing work force understand this - let them be role models and mouth pieces to change the minds of doubters. That's what the Labour Party should have been discussing on last week's holiday.

We'll see what happens. Like most governments, this one is a slow mover, but they do react eventually. Enough businesses, university officials, and investors are starting to demand action, so I feel that change is in the air. There's crime everywhere, so I don't believe it's a reason not to move or visit here (Jamaica has a MUCH worse reputation, but plenty of non-Jamaicans live and visit there), but I do think the place needs a reality check.

This article also needs balance. So the next entry will be discussing what's good about the island. I'll explain why it's worth putting up a fight to save St. Kitts, why we're still here, and why others should come too. Remember, we had a choice and we chose to come here. We'll tell you why.