TUESDAY, DEC. 15: Fellow Bermudians, our country is in crisis.

A summary of recent Police statistics underline the severity of the challenge we face:

* Nine shooting incidents since late May

* 14 people shot

* Two killed.

It is clear the vast majority of Bermudians want action to stop the violence and restore peace and security to their neighbourhoods.

Over the past few months, the United Bermuda Party has been keeping an eye on developments, walking through neighbourhoods gripped by gang violence and talking with community groups and Police.

Clearly, the problem of crime in Bermuda is deep-seated and complex. There is no magic wand. This is a community-wide problem. It's not a St. Monica's Mission Community problem. It's not a Parkside problem. It's a Bermuda problem requiring collective action, community compassion but also a much tougher, more punitive environment for criminals.

Just as the crime crisis is a Bermuda problem, it is going to take people from all walks of life, working together, to help us get an upper hand on the situation. It is also going to take time, but we have made a start with groups like Rise Above Bermuda already having a positive impact.

In addition we need to make sure organizations already in the field, and the people on the front lines, have the resources and the backing they need to do their jobs.

This afternoon, in my capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Safety, and with the support of my colleagues, I would like to start with the first of a series of press conferences on the crime crisis.

The ideas we put forward today are not meant to be comprehensive in terms of solving the crisis in its totality - it is simply too complex for one statement - but to make the point that we can do things now, concrete things, that can make a difference to a situation that troubles all of us.

In tackling crime, our overall goals are

* Better detection and prevention of crime

* Effective prosecution of criminals; and

* Enhanced rehabilitation to reduce re-offending.

To progress these goals, we are calling for

* Immediate increases in Police manpower for a strong and sustained night and day presence on the streets.

* Immediate, significant increases in the Police budget to provide them with all the tools and training they need to better detect and catch criminals.

* Community-wide 'Peace Talks" for solutions that help gang members become good citizens and to restore peace to our neighbourhoods.

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One of the most important observations we've made in our investigations is the existence of a profound disconnect between people across the community.

People simply do not have any understanding of why things are happening the way they are.

The general public has no real understanding of why gangs exist.

Gang members say society does not understand their frustrations. We sense their alienation is real.

Police are often stymied because they don't know the specific motivations behind the shootings.

It is our view that Bermuda can take a big step toward easing the crisis by trying to grow some understandings about why things are the way they are.

We need to put people in situations where they can get to know each other better, where people can speak freely, without fear, about why they do what they do, and why they feel what they feel.

We believe there is a major need to spread understanding across the community, because only through a broader understanding of problems can we start to fashion solutions that actually promote the peaceful and nurturing communities we all want.

The time, we believe, is ripe for dialogue.

Our first recommendation therefore is for a series of Peace Talks across the community, where people feel free to express their concerns, their fears, their frustrations and hopes. Obviously this means bringing gang members to the table, but also neighbourhood spokesmen and even Police.

Such an exercise will only work if we get the right people in place to make it happen. While we would expect the government to support the Peace Talks through funding and good will, we would like to see this work managed by community activists with no political affiliation other than their commitment to building a better Bermuda.

The aim is simply to foster understandings where today little exist. The goal is to use those understandings to fashion solutions for a better, more law-abiding society.

We believe the need to talk is urgent, and would like to see this process begin early in the New Year.

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In the meantime, we must give the Police all the support they need, not just for anti-gang activities but also the common crimes affecting people more than ever - crimes such as burglaries, robberies and drug trafficking.

Our concerns in this area are focused mainly on getting the government to do more. In that regard, the United Bermuda Party is prepared to support budget increases to strengthen Police capabilities in key crime fighting areas.

These include:

* More training to expand officer competence in multiple disciplines. This can lead to operating efficiencies and consistency in Police response to serious crimes. More specifically, there is a need to increase the number of Senior Investigating Officers.

* Increasing manpower to maximum levels. As a result of an agreement with the Government, which controls the purse strings, the Service has kept manpower below its mandated level to save money. This must end. Officers on the street are more important today than dollars saved, particularly with a government that spends so irresponsibly in so many other areas.

* We also want an end to overtime bans that restrict officer deployments and reduce their presence on the streets.

* Both of these cases - a smaller force and overtime bans - are the result of wasteful government spending. Money wasted in one area - say the $30 million cost overrun on the Dockyard pier - is money not available for anything else. The recent $2.7 million court-ordered settlement against the government for its ill-advised action against Bermuda Aviation Service is enough money to pay for a new Police computer system - sorely needed - to help manage their crime-fighting activities.

* We would also like to see the hiring of a narcotics expert to provide the courts with immediate evidence about seized drugs. Right now there is a case log jam of weeks for routine analyses of drugs such as marijuana, simply because there are not enough people to handle the work load. Delays in drugs cases undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system, especially when they see recently arrested criminals back on the street because the courts can't work quickly enough.

* We would like to see: funding for initiatives which can help police forensically such as mobile cameras; a stronger and sustained community policing programme.

* As indicated earlier, we want to see an immediate allocation of at least $2 million to modernize the Police computer system to improve operating efficiencies. It is an investment that should have been made years ago.

* We also call for a gun amnesty. People have dismissed this idea as useless, but we feel it important to clear the table if only as a prelude to a major crackdown by Police using their new powers of search anywhere and at any time of the day.

* It is critical that we start sending the strongest possible message to people who commit crimes that they will be caught, prosecuted and punished. This message is also critical for the law-abiding majority who need to know they can live their lives free from fear, knowing that the criminal justice system works for them, not the criminals.

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We take this opportunity to repeat our call for a formal Force Review by a UK Inspectorate.

The time for a formal review of strategies, deployments, force structure is long past due; the last one being conducted in 2003.

The inspections offer highly useful reviews of what is working well, what is not working well, and recommendations flow from them.

Bermuda needs an inspection now.

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We would also like to take this opportunity today to demand that the Government give unequivocal support to the Police.

It has been less than helpful over the years. The Premier's current fight with the Governor for operational control of the Police continues this poor record.

Statements by ministers caught up in this fight undermine public confidence in the Police, damage morale and make their work more difficult than it has to be. It is a shameful intrusion of politics into a realm it does not belong. It must end.

We were encouraged yesterday by the Governor's and the Premier's joint statement on crime but we remain skeptical the cooperation will last.

It is clear the Premier is hellbent on his independence agenda and that he will use his skirmishes for operational control of the Police to advance that plan.

We want Bermuda to understand this is a bogus issue and we urge the Premier once more to get serious, work with the Governor and the Police Commissioner, make sure Police have the resources they need. In other words, we want the Premier to do the job he was elected to do.

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The final point we'd like to make is the need for each and every one of us to play a part in turning back the tide of anti-social behavior that is ruining so many lives.

Each of us needs to examine what we can do to make Bermuda a better place.

Each of us needs to decide what kind of Bermuda we want for our families and friends and for future generations.

This is the time for each of us to stand up and be counted. We all must play our part.

If you have knowledge of criminal activity and don't come forward then you are accepting what is happening to Bermuda.

But if you step forward to help the fight against crime, then you are fighting for a better life for you, your children, your community and, ultimately, your country Bermuda.

We believe that is a fight worth fighting.

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I want to finish by stating that we in the United Bermuda Party do not have all the answers. We know we're not always right, but we are very concerned and we have a deep-seated passion about the future of our island.

It's why we are here today and why we are trying to make a difference.

We want to help rekindle the fire of concern in our community for a better way. We encourage other people to come forward for the better Bermuda we all want.