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National Security Adviser (NSA), Retired Major General Stewart Saunders, said the initiative largely came about in February 2019, after multiple gang-related homicides had taken place.
“The gangs themselves started indicating that they wanted to put an end to violence amongst themselves and their communities,” he said on Wednesday (July 10) on the radio and television programme Working for You. “They cited homicides, trauma, the attraction of youth to gang culture, and generally the negative impact that it was creating on the wider society and themselves. Gang members indicated that they wanted an end to violent activities and inquired about the ways and means that they could be assisted in creating a peaceful environment, change current lifestyles … and become more positive contributors to society.”
The channels of communication were wide open as law enforcement had ongoing engagements with various gangs as part of the strategy to reduce crime. The breakthrough was the result of tireless efforts to open a dialogue, build trust, and promote behavioural change.
Maj. Gen. Saunders said that in his more than 40 years of experience in public service this was the first time that he had ever experienced or heard of gang leaders reaching out to law enforcement in such a fashion.
The young men were encouraged to develop proposals for assistance. After determining the genuineness of the parties to change, and the feasibility of the proposals, a programme of assistance was designed and benchmarks for success created. The conditions included the men honouring their obligations and responsibilities as outlined in the plan, ceasing all gun-related activities, and the eventual establishment of legitimate business operations.
The NSA said there were no handouts of monies paid to individuals or groups and everyone remain subject to the rule of law. He stated that the assistance programme was geared to facilitate job opportunities, agricultural endeavours, facilitating skills training sessions, offer educational and development opportunities, as well as counselling and conflict resolution sessions. It also provides advice on entrepreneurial activities, money management, advice on accessing loans, reducing the influence of gang culture and exposure to the basic function of society.
The programme is an interim strategy, and Maj. Gen. Saunders noted that government is monitoring the outcomes very closely. He indicated that persons once caught up in a violent lifestyle are now generally coexisting in peace and harmony,
At a press conference on July 02, Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris noted that the country has benefited from the significant period of calm from gang-related activities since February 2019. He added that the government is willing to partner with any entity and listen to all ideas that can bring about a greater level of peace within the twin-island Federation.