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Minister Richardson: Violence level still high in St. Maarten


~ Murders down, five so far for the year ~

PHILIPSBURG–“Level of violence in our community is still high,” Justice Minister Dennis Richardson told Members of Parliament serving the Permanent Committee on Justice. The minister met with the community Tuesday to give a briefing on the state of affairs in the justice sector.

St. Maarten is still faced with strong challenges in the area of crime, he told MPs. However, “our small community is luckily not yet accustomed to such high level murders and attempts … We must discourage the use of extreme violence by making it clear to potential perpetrators that their chances of escaping justice are next to nothing.”

Murders, numbering five to date, are down this year compared to previous years. There were 18 murders, related to drug gangs, in 2011. Last year the number of murders stood at ten.

The case of attempted murder continues to be high and is “a cause for serious concern,” said Richardson.

Maltreatment cases have increased compared to the past three years. That figure stands at 250 cases, up from 210 last year. However, other forms of assault such as with a weapon are down for 2013 based on the figures of the first half of the year.

Property related crimes are down, especially house break-ins. However, the car thefts (289 cases) are on the increase.

Sex crimes reported to the police have remained stable in the past year. A total of eight rape cases reported for the year, down from 13 last year. Sexual assault is up by two cases this year from four last year.

Aside from the crime figures, “great strides” have been made in the past three years of country status in the build-up and development of the justice sector Richardson told MPs.

He outlined the hurdles crossed and the challenges that still remain in the sector at the meeting on the state of affairs in the Justice Sector at Parliament House.

At the birth of country St. Maarten, the police force was “understaffed, underequipped and neglected” with 133 full time employees. Today, the force stands at 190 (including administrative personnel) with an additional 37 special police BavPol in training. That number was projected to grow next year to 227.

The end target of 380 personnel for the police force will be reviewed and reduced due to budget constraints. In its place, there will be serious push for the improvement of quality in detection and prevention as well as the introduction of supporting technology to minimize and compensate the need for quantity, the minister explained.

The quality of the police force has “increased significantly: since 10-10-10 resulting in “a higher rate of solved crimes, with as highlight the recent independent and rapid solving of a double murder.”

The introduction of Community Police Officers (ten members) has had “a tremendous effect” with bringing the police force closer to the communities and crime reduction.

The immigration and border protection service has grown to 55 full-time employees and has a mobile control unit. The plan of approach for this service is finalized.

The prison detention capacity has been (temporarily) increased for an additional 80 placements, according to the minister. These are, however, spread over two locations, awaiting the finalization of the renovation of the Pointe Blanche prison.

The renovation of the Pointe Blanche prison has begun and will be finished in 18 months. A plan for the doubling of the capacity at the Pointe Blanche prison for it to better comply with modern day standards for separation of different types of prisoners and several different types of accommodations, services and recreational facilities have been developed.

The amount of persons working at the prisons has increased from 74 to 111 full-time employees.

A location and building in Cay Bay, which belongs to government, has been secured for a closed, a half open and open youth detention centre. The renovation of the building for the closed section can be completed in the first half of 2014.

The joint court as a legal entity (a St. Maarten initiative) functions with less problems than under the Netherlands, Richardson told MPs.

The public prosecutor service has increased capacity (five public prosecutors per 2014), but still lacks sufficient support staff. The presence of the office of the Solicitor General (with five full-time staff), also as acting Advocate General, is “an improvement.”

The national detective unit has a staff of 11 full time employees, but they have “an overloaded portfolio.”

The Financial Intelligent Unit MOT is in place with eight full-time workers.

The Justice Department, right hand advisor to the Minister of Justice, has 11 full-time employees.

The Customs Department now has 19 personnel and recently made a considerable drug find (150 kilos).

Meetings with the Coast Guard are ongoing to further intensify its operations in St. Maarten and surrounding waters, said the minister.

Arrangements are in place for the mental health treatment of detainees (Mental Health Foundation) and addicted persons (Turning Point Foundation) but also for other medical treatment of prisoners. An institution has been identified for the operational management of the youth detention centre.

The Court of Guardianship and the Foundation Judicial Institutions (SJI) were taken over from the Netherland Antilles as is. The Court of Court of Guardianship has 11 persons in service. No improvements have taken place since 10-10-10, while the organization is “woefully understaffed” and there are an increasing number of clients and tasks. Recently, a new director has taken over the management of the organization. The further development of these organizations is “crucial.” A plan for the merger of the court with the SJI has been developed.

Personnel in the Justice sector has grown with approximately 100 full-time employees since 2010 of which 60 BavPol-ers.

The budget of the Ministry of Justice was NAf 63 million this year, forming 15 per cent of the national budget. It is in size the third largest government expenditure (after education and finance).

The ministry will be seeking ways to increase its revenue. One idea on the table is the application of the “tourist driver’s licence” that will see visitors pay a government fee when they rent a car.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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