By MEGAN REYNOLDS - Associated Press
NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — The Bahamian prime minister announced Monday that his government will root out criminals, toughen laws, improve the islands' courts, round up unlicensed guns, and fund programs aimed at intervening in the lives of at-risk youth.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made the comments in a nationally televised address in the vast archipelago, which has seen a record number of killings this year. Police say 104 people have been killed so far in 2011. That tops the previous full-year record of 94 set last year.
Ingraham said the Bahamas was plagued with an "intolerable level of crime, especially violent crime."
"We are confronted by criminals, a criminal class of older seasoned offenders as well as a crop of bloody-minded juvenile offenders and thugs who seem to believe that they can evade the rule of law with little or no regard for life and other people's property," Ingraham said during his address, delivered a couple of days before Parliament reconvenes.
While much of the Bahamas, including tourist resorts, is peaceful, tensions run deep in some sections of Grand Bahamas and populous New Providence island, which is home to more than 200,000 people and some of the most famous resorts in the Caribbean nation off Florida's east coast.
Assistant Police Commissioner Hulan Hanna recently told reporters that he is alarmed at the escalating murder rate but law enforcers are committed to fighting crime on the islands of roughly 340,000 people.
Since gun violence has plagued certain neighborhoods, Ingraham said his administration is increasing the number and frequency of random searches of imports by customs officers to ferret out illegal weapons.
The prime minister said they will also require improved tracking of firearms entering the Bahamas legitimately on pleasure boats to ensure that "each and every firearm departs the Bahamas on the vessel on which it arrived."
"It is our firm conviction that removal of the unlicensed firearms from our society will substantially reduce the level of crime and pain in our society," he said.
His government is expanding by two the number of magistrate courts dealing exclusively with drugs and gun crime. It's also expected that by the start of next year the country we will have one more New Providence court in which criminal trials can be conducted.
Since police have said that many crimes are committed by known offenders, magistrates will face tighter rules for granting bail.
At a recent news conference, Branville McCartney, leader of the opposition Democratic National Alliance, said too many criminal convicts have been released back into communities.
"The criminals in the Bahamas are not fearful of the law. They have all law-abiding citizens living paralyzed with fear," McCartney said.
Ingraham said police will be aided by better technology, including two high-tech mobile police stations and a better network of closed circuit security cameras. Two-hundred more officers will help the national department enforce laws.
To help at-risk youngsters, Ingraham said the government will allocate $1 million to initiate programs in urban areas of Nassau and Freeport.