By Lesroy W. Williams

Observer Reporter

(Frigate Bay, St. Kitts)- Youth, guns and drugs are a deadly mix and their impact is growing, an official of the Organization of American States recently told a law enforcement conference.

At the recently-concluded Caribbean Heads of Special Branch Conference held June 4-6 on St. Kitts, Mr. Starret Greene, OAS Representative for St. Kitts and Nevis, addressed the gathering on the timely and relevant topic of guns, drugs, and gangs.

The theme of the Conference was, “Promoting stability, security, democracy and economic development through intelligence-led policing to reduce the upsurge of youth gangs, drugs, firearms and ammunition.”

In starting out his address, Mr. Greene made particular mention “that one of the major challenges of law enforcement is keeping abreast of the constantly changing patterns of criminal activities, as criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking and related activities are constantly seeking new and more sophisticated methods and means with which to avoid detection.”

“The OAS continues to work closely with its member countries, especially the United States and Canada to provide training in a number of specialized areas in order to strengthen special branch units in this and other regions in our Hemisphere,” Mr. Greene said.

Mr. Greene highlighted the point that youth violence and particularly juvenile gun violence is on the increase and that it is a frightening and widespread phenomenon. The combination of youth, guns and drugs has become deadly, he said.

According to him, the violence in schools is an obstruction to learning and many educators are forced to spend less time on academics because they have to monitor and try to control student aggression.

One of the factors driving the high rates of crime and violence is the impact of intra-regional drug trafficking Mr. Greene said. With drug-trafficking comes a proliferation of firearms he said. The proceeds from drug-trafficking are used to buy illegal arms of all types and sophistication, Mr. Greene noted.

In giving an overview of gangs, Mr. Greene said that guns and gangs are a dangerous mix. Most gangs are linked to adolescence and youth, and conditions of poverty and exclusion are among a set of factors that form fertile ground upon which gangs thrive he said.

“It is a commonly held view that gangs may be linked to a lack of opportunities provided by government, the labour market, and the community. They originate among children or adolescents who come from dysfunctional families and are looking for an identity, protection, sense of belonging, and power,” Mr. Greene said.

“Many are seeking the recognition they fail to receive from home or school. It has been shown that even parents with strong parenting skills cannot ensure that their children will not become involved in gangs, particularly in low-income, problem-ridden neighbourhoods,” he said.

Mr. Greene said that gangs come in all types, sizes and objectives. Some of these gangs he said are Scavenger Gangs, Transgresso Gangs, Violent Gangs, and Criminal Gangs.

Scavenger Gangs range from 15-40 members, ranging from

13-18 years old and are found in schools. They are involved in extortion, intimidation, and other criminal acts, usually minor offences, within and around their neighbourhood.

Transgresso Gangs range from 40-80 members, ranging from 10-18 years. They are engaged in constant protection and violent defense against rival gangs.  They use violence to impose control over the territory that they claim as theirs. Their objective is to give meaning to a life without meaning.

Violent Gangs range 100-500 members and are primarily Hispanic with an age range of 15-30 and over. Their criminal activity is the same as the Transgresso, but with a greater tendency towards homicide.

Criminal Gangs have about 50-200 members between the ages of 18-30 and over. Their activities are not limited to territories and they are engaged in various organized criminal activities using sophisticated weapons. Crime includes trafficking in drugs, persons, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, pandering, and murder. Their objective is money, reputation, and a power parallel to the power that excluded them. They are on a destructive path, and usually end up in prison or have a violent end to their lives.

Mr. Greene made special mention that combating guns, drugs and gangs require a collaborative approach including community leaders, law enforcement representatives, prosecutors, schools, grassroots agencies and community-based organizations. He said that there must be a pooling of resources both in prevention and intervention strategies.

According to Mr. Greene, there are youth- focused community oriented policing strategies and programs that have demonstrated promise and effectiveness in reducing gang problems as well.

Some of these are: Re-integrative Policing Strategies, in which law enforcement officers help juveniles make the transition make the transition into the community following secure confinement; Formation of Police Athletic Leagues (PAL), in which police provide a wide array of youth activities and programs that serve as alternatives to gang involvement, drug use and other delinquency; Futures Programs in which officers serve as mentors and role models, focusing on the academic achievement of at-risk students; The creation of youth-related activities, in which police officers spend a day with at-risk youth attending recreational and cultural events and participating in community activities.

Overall, Mr. Greene said that the problem of youth violence has to do with developmental issues. Promoting maturity and respect for life can help young people to grow in self-esteem and avoid certain anti-social behaviours.

“As a region, the Caribbean should be reaching out to our youths, especially those who feel disenfranchised, and provide them with the support and the resources that will allow them to become involved in legitimate activities and opportunities where their youthful energies can be challenged into positive and meaningful outcomes,” Mr. Green underscored in his closing remarks.