Dames attends Neighbourhoods USA (NUSA) Conference in California

Minister Dames (c) with Mayor Robert Moon (l) and Lisa Middleton (r) Palm Springs Council Member and NUSA Member

Minister of National Security the Hon. Marvin Dames along with members of the National Neighbourhood Watch Council (NNWC), neighbourhood watch group leaders and members, and police liaisons are attending the Neighbourhoods USA (NUSA) Conference from May 15 – 18, 2019 in Palm Springs, California.

The purpose of the conference is to bring together neighbourhood groups from throughout the United States and other parts of the world to share best practices as it relates to community residents, law enforcement and other community partners with the intent to foster safer communities.

For The Bahamas specifically, the Blaire Citizens’ Association is the first known neighbourhood watch group and it was formed in 1975. Since then many more neighbourhood groups have followed, however, the groups lacked standardization and existed in silos. Since coming to office in 2017, Minister Dames envisioned and has facilitated the development of more comprehensive and purposeful neighbourhood watch groups. In accordance, in July 2018, the National Neighbourhood Watch Council was launched. The Council serves as the overarching body to coordinate activities among the respective groups throughout The Bahamas. The new and progressive initiative seeks to encourage and assist communities wishing to form neighbourhood watch groups.

Despite its short existence, there are now 112 neighbourhood watch groups, of which 90 are in New Providence, 16 in Grand Bahama, and six in Abaco. For the first time police liaisons were introduced and they serve to provide a direct link and partnership in the fight against crime. The liaisons also serve to provide training, guidance and support for their respective groups. Minister Dames and representatives from The Bahamas hope to garner and share best practices with NUSA’s presenters, strategists, practitioners and citizens. There are over 700 delegates from throughout the United States inclusive of The Bahamas, which has the largest international delegation in attendance. The objective for the Bahamian delegation is to gain extensive knowledge on how the Ministry of National Security, NNWC, law enforcement and concerned citizens can build stronger communities in The Bahamas.

Another underline purpose of the neighbourhood watch groups are to inspire young people, especially young men. Neighbourhood watch groups are not only concerned with fighting crime but on building stronger communities through partnerships. Of the 21 persons whom travelled to the conference, Mr. Watson Castin is the youngest member of the group and one of the youngest to join his neighbourhood community group. He resides in the Bain and Grant’s Town Constituency and instead of allowing the challenges of being in a community with a high propensity for crime to decide his life choices, he has chosen to live a crime and drug free life. This conference in Palm Springs represents many first for Mr. Castin as this is his first time travelling internationally. While most Bahamians first international trip is usually to Florida, Mr. Castin is in sunny California. For him this trip hopes to increase his knowledge base and provide the necessary support to help him develop into a responsible contributing member of society. He hopes one day to become a member of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

During the opening ceremony, Minister Dames acknowledged that the respective neighbourhood watch groups are pivotal to the success and development of communities. He noted that governments are not responsible for creating crime and more often, than not, there is a heavy reliance on them to reduce crime rates. In addition, he noted that the present challenges did not mushroom overnight but festered due to neglect. In response, Minister Dames posited that community residents should work together to devise grass root strategies to foster neighbourhoods which reflect their distinct values and beliefs. It is only through the individual efforts of each neighbourhood watch group that collectively countries will be able to enjoy safe places to live, work and prosper.

Upon their return to The Bahamas, the NNWC of The Bahamas will be travelling to Exuma and Eleuthera to introduce the concept of neighbourhood watch groups. This will be followed by committee members of the NNWC, law enforcement, neighbourhood watch groups, corporate Bahamas and community activists preparing for The Bahamas’ first neighbourhood watch conference which is scheduled for October. The conference hopes to expand the work of the Council and respective groups.