The endless spate of gun and gang violence, coupled with the antisocial and criminal behaviour plaguing Bermuda over the past two decades is being driven by a small number of people.
This from National Security Minister Renée Ming, who told MPs there are up to 250 gang members on island and some are recruiting children as young as 8-years-old, both boys and girls.
Providing an update on the issue of gangs in Bermuda on Friday (Feb 4), she said there were roughly at least nine gangs spread across the island.
“Based on current intelligence, the Bermuda Police Service estimate that there are at least nine (9) identified gangs operating in Bermuda.
“It’s a stark reality, but there are children in primary school, who, today, owing to their family, community and economic circumstances, are already being indoctrinated into this antisocial mindset.
“Yes, I said children and there are girls being recruited as well. We have children showing allegiances to gangs and committing violent acts while in school.”
And they have hundreds of core members, enabled by family members and other associates, including children, she added.
“Our reality, is that in this small community we are all connected.”
Overall, the Minister said this “crisis” warrants a balanced approach, including preventative and outreach measures.
But she insisted police budget cuts and the decrease in the number of officers had no bearing on the situation.
The Minister also appealed to members of the community to get involved in the fight against gangs in Bermuda.
“The police cannot do this alone and need the support of the Honourable Members of this House and the community.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the issue believing it is not our individual problem, we are in a crisis and everyone has a role to play.”
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
You will recall that I provided a statement…some three months ago where I addressed a number of matters relating to gangs in Bermuda including the root causes, our existing gang violence reduction programmes, proposed programmes and our multi Ministry approach. At that time, I did not speak to gang numbers or enforcement but will do so today as well as provide an update on the Gang Violence Reduction Team’s programs.
Gangs and violence are a scourge on our community. The root causes are a painful reflection of generations of economic and social inequality in Bermuda and the mindset it creates. This, combined with a number of other factors, including the breakdown of the family unit, lack of or limited education and employment opportunities make it very difficult to break this cycle and enable meaningful social mobility.
However, we can and must address these root causes to stop this cycle of youth turning to gangs.
In respect of deaths and injuries from gang violence, some of the worst years were between 2009 and 2011, when sixteen (16) persons were shot and killed, and fifty two (52) were shot and injured.
There was a short reprieve with no recorded murders in 2019. However, from January 2020, there have been five (5) persons shot and killed, and twenty-four (24) persons shot and injured. This includes the multiple shooting at a local bar and restaurant on the 26th October 2021. The numbers are heartbreaking.
As mentioned earlier, I will speak to enforcement and our GVRT programs.
The notion that we can arrest our way out of gang violence is outdated and a misguided mindset of a by-gone era. Enforcement is the option of last resort. It’s when all else has failed and the individual is an active gang member, resolute in their antisocial behaviour and criminal activity, that the full weight of enforcement efforts should be brought to bear.
We have laws including the Criminal Code Act 1907, the Proceeds of Crime Act 1997, Firearms Act 1973 and Misuse of Drugs Act 1972 that provide for offences and penalties for the gang members’ criminal activity including increased penalties for unlawful gang activity within increased penalty zones. To be clear there is a role for enforcement. There will always be consequences for those who choose the path of antisocial and criminal behaviour.
We must have a balanced approach that doesn’t alienate, stigmatise or victimize the very communities that need our help. Enforcement and preventative/proactive measures are important and both need to work in tandem to help our youth and their families.
The Bermuda Police Service is the law enforcement entity responsible for preventing and detecting crime and have adopted a robust approach to tackling gang and gun violence. As early as 2009, the BPS recognised the significant challenge of tackling Gangs/Guns and that it required high levels of community engagement, as enforcement alone could not address the systemic issues.
Since 2009, the BPS has made a number of adjustments in response to the gun and gang problem and continue to evolve with a focus on leveraging community support and technology to assist in bringing offenders to justice.
The BPS has implemented a Gang Violence Reduction Strategy with a core focus on partnership. It consists of three pillars;
- Prevention (Education & Awareness)
- Catch & Convict – Police focused (Targeting/Suppression)
- Resettlement/Rehabilitation – collaboration.
The BPS continues to adapt and evolve in tackling the issues of gangs with the necessary emphasis on an evidenced-based approach to policing. This includes the use of information, intelligence and lessons learned. This has resulted in multiple arrests for murder and firearms related offences, as well as significant seizures of illegal drugs and firearms. Multiple persons have been prosecuted with over 40 men incarcerated, receiving life and/or long-term sentences for murder, attempt murder and firearms related offences.
The Police cannot do this alone and need the support of the honourable members of this House and the Community. You can play your part in reducing gang violence by supporting the police, providing information to the Police and encouraging your constituents to do the same. If you know something, say something. You can do so by calling 211, the main police number on 295 0011 or CrimeStoppers at 800-8477.
The problem before us is a Bermuda problem. We need all hands on deck; our community partners must step-up and assist. The gang culture is a cancer which needs to be arrested and eliminated. There is much to be done; I call on businesses, churches, sporting clubs and communities to get involved and do your part. We can no longer turn a blind-eye to the issue believing it is not our individual problem, we are in a crisis and everyone has a role to play.
We are all in this together!
I also promised to give an update on the Ministry’s Gang Violence Reduction team. It is important to note that the GVRT is a part of the Ministry of National Security and they have a very different role from the Police. The mission of the GVRT is to aid in the transition of at risk individuals away from delinquent peer groups and toxic environments with the aim of reducing violent crime in Bermuda. The GVRT continues to focus on Prevention, Outreach, Intervention, Community Engagement and Collaboration. Relationship building is a key component of the GVRT.
The GVRT Programs include:
- The Redemption Program (RP) – a program aimed to be socially restorative and encourage the desistance of criminality. The RP trainees receive a weekly stipend for their work and case Management Services, Educational Services and post training support are part of the program.
- Work Placement and Mentoring Program – this is a job placement program that employs and targets at-risk youth who participated in the high school intervention programs.
- School Programs and Services – early intervention programmes includes the Hype Kings and Queens programmes at the primary level that target at risk boys and girls. The GVRT also conduct weekly visits to primary school and middle schools; daily visits to high schools to be on hand to offer guidance and assist with interventions.
- Excellence Program – a partnering program with Cedarbridge Academy. This 10 – 12 week program focuses on incident mediation and encouraging self-reflection. The GVRT help students realize their self-worth.
- Street level Outreach Work and Case Management– the GVRT continues to lower community tensions, with a focus on Prison, Schools and street level outreach.
- Coordinated Crisis Response Team (CCRT) – the CCRT team is available following crisis response to restore peace in the community and assist family members, relatives or witnesses to violent crimes. There is a hospital team that attend the hospital to support family and close loved ones during the peak crisis. The community team provide crisis counselling to residents following a violent incident. The team goes door to door offering support and offering guidance on services to area affected residents.
- Mediations and Negotiations – the team assists where needed to bridge gaps and foster relationships.
- Community Service – available to support young people in obtaining their court mandated community service hours.
The team also continues to:
- Provide non-traditional counselling sessions and family group sessions.
- Monitor Court sessions and provide clients advocacy support during Court.
• Connect clients to various social supports including Financial Assistance, Legal Aid, and food support.
- Provide clients who are seeking employment with assistance in developing résumés and applying for jobs.
- Providing conflict resolution service and mediating between clients to prevent further incidents.
In our schools the GVRT provides Incident Management Support. This includes:
- Facilitating multi – agency department meetings to strategize the development of violence mitigation plans where there is high tension or incidents between students.
- Delivering ongoing mediations sessions
- Daily school lunch visits in High Schools.
- Delivering individual youth sessions
- The launch of the Excellence Program
There is no one size fits all approach and to ensure that our goals are achieved we are taking a multi-ministry approach that includes the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Seniors, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Youth Culture and Sports, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Public Works. Together, the mentioned ministries will each make concerted efforts within their domain to improve the quality of life for our youth and their families by providing opportunities for positive growth.
For instance, the Ministry of Labour have ensured that the Youth Employment Strategy promotes support for at risk youth and non- traditional students. The purpose is to improve pathways to employment for at risk youth and early school leavers by providing specialized services for youth requiring additional support. Young people who are exposed to gang activity will be introduced to a skills development program for unskilled, unemployed, disadvantaged youth (ages 18-26) which provides work experience, career readiness training and a personal development plan. This will position attendees to participate in a formal apprenticeship or trainee program upon completion. In additional to skills development the Ministry of Labour will work with external organizations to support the population of young people requiring additional support. I look forward reporting on the other ministries initiatives in the very near future.Mr. Speaker, I commend the work of the Bermuda Police Service and the Gang Violence Reduction Team as well as our partners both within and outside of the Government who are working to make a difference.
In closing, I leave you with this quote from Luis Rodriguez: “We all need each other. Gangs do try and fill that void – but they can’t do what healthy, balanced and coherent families and communities can do. Let’s strengthen our core relationships from the start – and all the way through a young person’s life. This is the best way to avoid the growth of deadly and crime-involved gangs.”