By Royston Jones Jr.
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas(Janaury 18th 2016):- — US Embassy in Nassau charge d’affaires Lisa Johnson said The Bahamas’ crime statistics are “frightening” and the local crime problem is an issue that needs to be tackled before it begins to have a notably adverse effect on tourism and the country’s economy.
“Look, it’s a difficult problem. The statistics are frightening,” said Johnson in a roundtable meeting with Bahamian media on Thursday.
During that meeting, Johnson expressed concern that the problem needs to be addressed urgently, although she noted relief won’t come overnight.
She also told reporters the US government has now stepped up its assistance to the Bahamian government to hopefully bring a resolution to the issue that has prompted several crime warnings from different countries.
Last week, the embassy issued a warning to US citizens travelling to and living in The Bahamas not to patronize jet ski operators on New Providence due to the poorly regulated nature of the industry and several alleged rapes of American tourists in The Bahamas.
The US has also expressed concern about armed robbery and murder in The Bahamas.
Yet some have suggested the US has a critical role to play in violent crime in The Bahamas due to the proliferation of guns originating from the US flooding the local black market.
In the majority of the 149 murders committed last year, a gun was used.
Recently, opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis recently said that the country must “declare war on guns” and establish a dedicated intelligence gathering facility to partner with the international community.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe recently said a conversation between The Bahamas and the US government must be had to address illegal firearms from America finding their way into the country.
However, Johnson insisted that gun control in the US, despite efforts by US President Barack Obama to tighten restrictions when buying guns in certain instances, will not solve the problem with guns in The Bahamas.
“You’re not going to find the answer to your gun problem in US legislation or change in policy,” she said.
“You’re going to find it by working closely with us both on investigating and trying to shut down some of these criminal rings that are bringing guns into this country and trying to stop that.”
Johnson maintained that The Bahamas and the US are still great friends and this was displayed during minister of national security Dr Bernard Nottage’s recent meetings with US law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C.
Johnson said she attended all those meetings she said were focused on gangs.
“Really, one of the takeaways is that when you’re investigating or prosecuting cases of gun violence or retaliatory violence, that you’ve got to have investigators and prosecutors working together from the beginning,” Johnson said, likely referencing a recent failed effort by the government to prosecute several men under new anti-gang legislation.
“So it was just really instructive to them to hear how that partnership works, and we do expect some follow up with the people we met with – FBI and the prosecutors; we’d like to have them down here to The Bahamas.
“The prime minister has asked them if they would come down and I’m sure they’d love to.”
Johnson said the meetings with Nottage also focused on how to better use electronic monitoring to curb crime and to oversee accused repeat offenders.
“The Court [Services and] Offender Supervision Agency, we’re trying to discuss and learn more about electronic and bracelet monitoring that’s in use in the United States and how it can be applied more effectively here,” she said.
“And we also went out to the Fairfax [County] Police Department and 911 Center to hear how they do emergency response and how they use technology to direct their assets quickly to scenes of crimes.”
Johnson said she’s hopeful The Bahamas can rid itself of its vexing crime problem before it’s too late.