POLICE Commissioner Gary Griffith minced no words on Monday as he trained his guns squarely at politicians, three days after the Bail Amendment Bill – designed to prevent suspects charged with possession of arms and ammunition from getting bail for 120 days – failed to get the requisite votes in Parliament last Friday.
At a press conference, Griffith slammed politicians for not supporting the police by implementing stricter regulations for gun offences. He said all efforts of the police in finding and arresting criminals were futile if people held with guns and ammunition continue to get bail.
Responding to critics who said the accused are entitled to bail, Griffith said the public also has a right to live, citing countries in Europe and South America that have implemented stiffer penalties for firearm possession with some success. Referring to high-calibre bullets and rapid-fire, assault rifles and machine guns as "cop-killers," he said it necessary for politicians, on both sides, to put aside differences for the sake of the police.
"We have a situation where someone is held, you immediately get bail, through the criminal justice system several years will pass and by that time the witness may no longer be interested and even if the suspect pleads guilty, he is fined $5,000.
"When young people...were frustrated recently, the fine for them swimming was $50,000 and if someone bounces a $600 cheque (the fine) is more than being caught with a firearm. Only in this country can someone be held for ammunition and get bail the next day. I am asking the public to stand fast on this one, it's not about red and yellow," he said, in a reference to party politics.
"We can reduce murders by 50 per cent. But when we arrest these people, we need to make sure they stay behind bars. These (bullets) are what can be known as cop-killers. This can kill my police officers. Why would any country worth its salt, having held someone with this kind of fire-power, say they have a constitutional right to be back on the street the next day? My take on it is, we should throw away the key."
Griffith said that over the past five years, 7,647 people were arrested for possession of guns and ammunition, which represents roughly two arrests per day over that period.
Referring to assault rifles as "weapons of mass destruction," Deputy Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde said there was need for more penalties for gun offences, as assault rifles are growing in popularity among criminals, citing statistics on weapons seized by police over the past three years.
"In 2017, the police seized nine AK-47s and seven AR-15s. In 2018, the figures were seven AK-47s and six AR-15s while in 2019 we have seen a huge increase in the recovery of high-powered rifles with six AK-17s and 38 AR-15 rifles being seized. These weapons assisted in contributing to roughly 79 per cent of the homicides counted between 2015 and 2019. Today, the criminal element holds tightly to these rifles."
President of the Police Social Welfare Association Gideon Dickson, who said he supports Griffith's call for more aggressive penalties for gun offenders. He agreed that people held with assault rifles are threats to society and should be dealt with more seriously by the justice system.