Antigua and Barbuda’s Carnival is the country’s premiere event. We bill it as the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival and to do so we have to offer a safe festival where locals and visitors can enjoy a good time, feeling secure wherever they go. It also requires that our entertainment is appealing and does not bore those participating or viewing. This year, while attendance has been low, the security and flow of the shows have been good. (We hope that we have not spoken too soon.)
Responsibility for the security at most of the official Carnival events falls to the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, and let’s be honest, things have not been going too good for the police in recent times. Put bluntly, they have not been the recipient of good news for a very long time and there has been enough bad public relations in recent times to last for years. That said, we must commend the police for their efforts for Carnival 2018 thus far.
We have witnessed a strong presence on the road and in the Antigua Recreation Ground and we have no doubt that the visuals of ever present police have diffused more than a few situations before they could get going. We have also seen the police take swift action to subdue individuals and situations before they are allowed to erupt, thereby reducing risks to revelers. It creates an atmosphere where people feel free to free-up themselves and enjoy the rhythms and splendour of Carnival.
We hope that the police and those in authority are taking note of the effectiveness of a strong police presence. People are just naturally better behaved when they know that their misbehaviour or wildness will come with consequences; which could include incarceration. It is why we should beef-up the police presence all over the island and put greater emphasis on community policing. We have been advocating for this for a while, arguing that when it comes to crime, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but as loud as we holler, we still have not seen an overarching plan to achieve that.
The same dramatic effect that the police have on our carnival, is the same effect their presence, if seen, can have in our communities. The retort is always that we do not have the resources to put more boots on the streets but we are fairly confident that if we looked carefully at the impact of crime and analysed the numbers, we would see that any serious reduction in thefts and other crimes would easily pay for the increase in resources.
When it comes to our carnival, it only takes one bad experience to hit the press to cause a serious impact. If it happens to a local, people will shy away from the events and participation will drop, as would be revelers choose safety over party. The impact would be worse if it happens to a visitor because fewer people would visit, which means reduced foreign exchange and less dollars floating around in the economy.
With a new approach, our current resources can also be stretched to create a greater presence. For example, some time ago, we recommended bicycles as a way to stretch the reach of our police force. We proposed that bicycles would increase the overall fitness of the officers, allow faster response times, increase community engagement and reduce costs. With a specialised police bicycle costing less than US $1,000 compared to a typical police vehicle costing tens of thousands of dollars, we concluded that a single police pick-up or SUV could cover the cost of scores of bicycles – enough to, at least, begin a bicycle department. Plus, there is no comparison to the cost of maintenance.
This was why we were overjoyed when, in 2014, the force announced that it was introducing bicycles to their patrols. Then, when we saw them in use during the Carnival, we were even more elated. However, the roll-out seems to have halted and instead of growing the fleet, it seems as though, it has decreased. That is the perception in any case. At the time, Police Commissioner Vere Browne said that the bicycle roll-out was part of an overall programme to ensure that the police force has adequate transportation. We hope that is still the case and the programme is simply paused instead of terminated.
We know that the relationship between the police and public is strained but there are a lot of good police officers who do protect and serve. This carnival, we invite you to say a friendly hello to one of the officers standing in the hot sun while you are jumping up in the band with a cold beverage in your hand. Or maybe offer a thank-you for making your carnival a safe one. We are sure that it would be appreciated.
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