FROM GOVERNOR OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
MR JOHN RANKIN CMG
I am pleased to be here this morning with the Premier and Commissioner of Police.
Under the Constitution I have responsibility for the security of the Virgin Islands, including the police. I do not shy away from that responsibility - it is my top priority.
In carrying out that responsibility I work in close consultation with the Honourable Premier and other members of the National Security Council, namely the Minister for Communication and Works together with the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner. And I also work closely with the Minister for Health and Social Development on matters related to the Prison.
In considering the security of the Territory it is important to note that the BVI remains a low crime jurisdiction compared to the large majority of other places in the region and internationally.
Thankfully most people here can go about their day to day life in relative peace and safety. That is also the case for international visitors to our Territory.
But I know that is no cause for complacency and I am keenly aware that people have been disturbed by events that have taken place in recent months and for some time before that.
So far this year we have had four murders. And the recent robbery at the Pier Park, with shots being fired in the air, was also deeply disturbing.
To deal with such crimes we need to support the work of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. While there will always be a demand for more people and resources, I thank the Premier for the budget that he and the Government provide for the RVIPF, and I also continue to welcome the UK Government’s support. Over recent years some $2m of UK funding has been used to provide training for the police and to provide them with technology (such as body worn cameras) to help them in their work, together with helping to fund the renovation of the police stations in Road Town and in Virgin Gorda.
This year, The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will provide up to $1m for a wholesale review of law enforcement agencies, including the Police, Customs, Immigration and the Prison, in line with Commission of Inquiry recommendations. And again in line with the COI recommendations, the International Police Assistance Service are supporting the establishment of a new vetting unit, with a view to ensuring that all law enforcement officers are subject to vetting by the end of 2023, providing confidence that officers uphold the values that the public rightly expects.
Beyond such practical support, we all need to show our public support for the Commissioner and in his team in their operations. Members of the NSC and I were pleased to make clear our welcome for the speedy investigation carried out by the Police which led to the arrest and charging of two individuals for the Pier Park robbery, within a week of it taking place.
But we also need to tackle the underlying causes of crime, and particularly violent crime in the Virgin Islands.
That is why in the National Security Council we are keen to build a wider anti-violence strategy, not just supporting the police in their immediate work but going beyond that to develop a broader approach.
Let me start with the need to tackle the drugs trade. The Police assess that the four murders committed this year are linked to that trade and/or organised criminal groups.
The trade in drugs is deeply corrosive to our society. Some people, often young people, unfortunately are lured into making what they think will be easy money through that trade and its related criminal activity. They forfeit a respectable future and risk it all by getting tempted into corruption for personal gain. But when they get caught they face lengthy prison sentences.
The drugs trade goes hand-in-hand with guns and violence, and the illicit funds it generates are used to bribe and corrupt, drawing more members of our society into a criminal web.
To tackle this we need more people to speak out against the scourge of illicit drugs; to not let their loved ones be drawn in to it; and to tell the Police when they know that wrongdoing is happening.
The Police must in turn play their part, and they are doing so. They have had record successes in recent years in capturing illegal firearms. In 2021, 30 firearms and 1,646 rounds of ammunition were captured. In 2022 the figures were 49 firearms, 17 imitation firearms and 572 rounds of ammunition. So far this year 16 firearms have been captured, and three tonnes of cocaine have been seized, with multiple associated arrests.
But of course we also need to prevent drugs and guns entering the territory in the first place, strengthening the security of our borders, with the Police, Customs and Immigration working at the airport, the sea port and on the water to help counter illegal importation.
As far as my responsibilities for the Police are concerned, I am pleased to note that the UK Government has supplied four fast boats and training for the Police Marine Unit to help them in their work. The boats are all now operational with one of them due to be based and crewed in Virgin Gorda. These boats have already proved their worth, being used directly in the operation carried out by the Marine Unit on 7 July in Anguilla waters, resulting in the arrest of six persons and the seizure of two tonnes of cocaine which we believe was destined for the BVI.
As well as working with the Police, Customs, Immigration and wider international agencies, we also need to involve other parts of the community here in the Virgin Islands.
We need to work with schools, youth organisations, churches and other community stakeholders to help to keep young people away from crime and support those young persons who may be at risk.
We need to work with health services to assist those who may be using illicit drugs or who may have other challenges that make them vulnerable to criminals.
And we need to work with those who end up in prison, providing support for their rehabilitation and helping to prevent them retuning to crime after release.
That is what a wider anti-violence strategy should address and I look forward to working with the Premier, the Police Commissioner and other stakeholders in building that strategy and using it as a living instrument to help tackle violent crime.
With such an approach, I believe we can better support the police and other agencies in their work, and help keep the Virgin Islands safe for everybody.