Coming to a neighbourhood near you? A U.S. SWAT team in action. Premier Brown has floated the idea of setting one up in Bermuda but police officers we spoke to say the idea betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the police service’s current strengths and weaknesses. *MCT photo
Coming to a neighbourhood near you? A U.S. SWAT team in action. Premier Brown has floated the idea of setting one up in Bermuda but police officers we spoke to say the idea betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the police service’s current strengths and weaknesses. *MCT photo
Premier Ewart Brown's proposal for an island SWAT team has caused indignation and anger within the Bermuda Police Service.

One high-ranking officer said that the "mystifying" idea showed a "scary" ignorance of how the police service works. Another senior policeman, and a member of the island's existing armed response unit, said that Dr. Brown appears to have pulled the SWAT plan "straight from the movies" with no regard to cost, manpower or whether it has any relevance to the community. Another said that the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) is currently so understaffed that it is unable to carry out even "basic services". Therefore, to talk of a new elite unit is ludicrous.

Earlier this month, 18-year-old Kellon Hill was stabbed dead as he was leaving a party at Elbow Beach. Little over a week later, 22-year-old Prince Barrington Edness was injured in a drive-by shooting on Princess Street. The violence prompted Dr. Brown to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting, aimed at finding ways to end what he called: "anti-social behaviour among young people that is threatening our country's very way of life." After the meeting, Dr. Brown announced several initiatives, including diverting more cops to the streets and reviewing Bermuda's laws to see if they fit with 21st Century crime. He also said that Government will be exploring the formation of a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) unit, based on those deployed in the U.S.

A high-ranking BPS officer said yesterday that the island's existing Emergency Response Team (ERT) already has all the capability of a SWAT team. He said: "To many of us here, it was very sad to hear that they [Government] are so out of touch with what's going on within the police. It was scary, from where I sit, that the Premier doesn't know what our capabilities are.

"We already have 25 armed officers - at full strength - who rank alongside any armed response unit in the world, in terms of dedication to training, resources and equipment. They are on duty 24/7 and are capable of carrying out any operation of that sort [response to armed threats]."

He continued: "People here, on the whole, were mystified. I am not aware that any police officers were present during those cabinet discussions. So you have to ask: who were the experts in that room? That might explain why this idea does not gel with the model we are trying to push in the community: a model where the community are more involved in making things better."

He said that a chronic and ongoing manpower shortage at the BPS means that "we don't even have basic services yet." He said: "We need more people on the ground doing basic police work. That's where we want to see the effort being made."

Disrespected

Another officer, who is a marksmen with the ERT, said that many of his colleagues feel disrespected by the SWAT proposal. He said: "We can't think what the Premier was thinking. Does he want heavily-armed guys, all dressed in black, jumping out of the back of vans, kicking down doors, like you see in the movies? That's fine, but you have to back it up with intelligence.

"You have to be very careful when you deploy armed men. It's no good us raiding a house and finding the suspect isn't there, or worse, he is and so are his kids. We don't need another armed unit, we need more intelligence: more officers on the streets gathering information and letting us know who to target and when and where. We have the tools; it's more information we need."

The officer said that the police are aware of "certain individuals" who are responsible for a large amount of major crime on the island. However, before the ERT stages raids it needs to have watertight intelligence to make sure they catch offenders with drugs or weapons so that prosecutions succeed in court.

He said: "You could have another hundred [armed men] and it wouldn't make any difference without better intelligence. Is the Premier saying that a SWAT team would have prevented that shooting on Princess Street? Does he want armed men deployed on the streets waiting for those things? Why not just bring in tanks? Talk of SWAT sounds like politicking. The level of threat in Bermuda is nothing like it is in the States. SWAT teams can be heavy-handed, gung-ho, and totally inappropriate for this island. Something needs to be done, certainly - we need more manpower all over, more police on the streets, a more visible presence - but a SWAT team is one thing we don't need."

Critics outside the police said yesterday that the SWAT unit idea appears to be one more smokescreen to hide the fact that Government is not taking any tangible steps to fight crime. Commentator Stuart Hayward said: "This is not the first time a programme has been put forward as a possible solution, without any of the details being worked out. It absorbs people's attention, and it absorbs money, and then, by the time we look at the details, we find that it won't work after all. Meanwhile, no attention is given to any real, meaningful solutions."

What do you think? E-mail feedback on this story to editor Tony McWilliam: tmcwilliam@bermudasun.bm

Bermuda.

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun on condition of anonymity, several frustrated officers told us the same thing: that Government urgently needs to address the chronic shortfall in beat officers before making grandiose promises about SWAT squads. One policeman said that not even 100 sharpshooters would make a difference to crime on the island without more beat police to gather information in