By Orville Williams
Bearing in mind the momentous effort that has been required by his officers over the past several months, Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney cut a satisfied figure as he announced the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB) recorded a decrease in crime for the year 2020.
The Commissioner led a panel of high-ranking officers yesterday at the Sir Wright F George Police Training Academy, as part of the force’s official end-of-year media briefing.
He was joined by Deputy Commissioner of Police Albert Wade; Assistant Commissioner Roland Cuffy; Head of the Fire Department – Assistant Commissioner Elvis Weaver; Head of the Traffic Department – Assistant Superintendent of Police Rodney Ellis; and Head of the Office of Professional Standards Superintendent Louisa Benjamin-Quashie.
Following an overview from Commissioner Rodney, Superintendent Benjamin-Quashie shared the detailed crime statistics for the 12-month period. She explained that in comparison to the year 2019, there was a 16 percent reduction in crime for 2020, with 2,370 offences committed last year versus 2,836 two years ago. The specific crimes that reduced in 2020 included breaking and larceny, malicious damage, rape, fraud and wounding, among others.
Importantly, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to have a direct, short-term impact on crime – as Rodney suggested – with figures for April 2020 reduced to 132 from 230 for April 2019. The seven-day island-wide lockdown at the start of that month could perhaps be credited for the decrease.
Significant reductions were also recorded for June and July 2020, compared to the same periods for the previous year.
Along with the decrease in crime, a reduction was also seen in the number of arrests for 2020, with the exception of a few categories, namely, firearm and ammunition. Firearm-related arrests actually increased by just over double, while arrests for ammunition offences increased by more than four times, compared to 2019.
From a monthly standpoint, cannabis-related arrests dominated the entire year, equalled only by firearm arrests in the month of September. Cannabis appears to remain the most popular illegal substance in the country, as arrests for no other drug came close.
Along with the overall reduction in crime, there were increases recorded in some select areas. Murder went up from just three in 2019, to nine in 2020 (three of which remain unsolved), while burglary, robbery and attempted arson also increased somewhat substantially.
Interestingly, some crimes that did not even register on the police’s radar in 2019 were actually recorded in 2020. These include attempted larceny, attempted robbery, buggery, forgery, infanticide and suicide.
In total, the number of arrests recorded for 2020 was 1,311, the number of spent convictions – 908, the number of sudden deaths – 242, the number of missing persons – 13, the number of missing vehicles – nine, and the number of deportees – one.
The overall decrease trend was also experienced by the Traffic Department, with Assistant Superintendent Ellis noting that they recorded a reduction in the total number of collisions last year. In 2019, 2,578 collisions were recorded, compared to 2,228 for 2020 – a difference of 350.
The number of persons injured in road collisions also decreased from 251 in 2019 to 200 in 2020, though the number of fatal collisions increased slightly, from three in 2019 to four in 2020.
The 25-50 age group was responsible for 1,023 collisions in 2020, though a large percentage of that figure was attributed to minor collisions. Males were also listed as being responsible for 842 collisions, compared to 296 involving females.
Statistics from the Fire Department bucked the overall decrease trend, showing an increase in fire calls – 401 in 2019 to 494 in 2020. However, the number of house fire calls decreased, along with the number of calls for vehicle fires.
Some increases were seen in electrical and brush fire calls, while the numbers of false fire calls went up to 48 for 2020, versus 30 in 2019.
During his address, Commissioner Rodney acknowledged the strain that was placed on the entire force, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, he said, “we kept true to our mandate, we kept true to our motto which is fidelity and devotion…I am happy to say that the men and women of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda contributed significantly [to] what has taken place since the pandemic. As an organisation, we responded well.”