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Interview with Lt. Col. Patrick Wallace, Commander of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force

Interview with Lt. Col. Patrick Wallace, Commander of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force

By Dialogo
January 12, 2012

St. Kitts and Nevis co-sponsored the 2012 Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) with the United States Southern Command, in December 2011. Diálogo had the opportunity to talk to the Caribbean country’s Defence Force commander about the biggest threats affecting the island nation, what they are doing internally to curb drug trafficking, and the importance of working alongside the U.S. toward these efforts.

Diálogo: What are the biggest defense threats that St. Kitts is facing?

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Wallace: The biggest threat for us is the youth gang violence which some people think is an offshoot from the drug trade. If you’ve been following the news in St. Kitts, you’ll see we’ve had 31 murders in 2011. And so the biggest issue for us is youth gang violence, followed by the trafficking of small arms and illegal drugs.

Diálogo: Is St. Kitts being used as a transit country for drugs where the weapons are left behind?

Lt. Col. Wallace: That is one issue. The other is the exchange of weapons for the assistance in transit of the drugs. These people are given weapons to protect the shipment as the drugs pass through. That is a scenario that we believe has accounted for the weapons that are being used on the streets. In terms of the volume of drugs – which we think is what is happening regionally – I will not say that this happens every week, or every day; it just depends on the security situation, or if law enforcement is to the west, it makes it easier to come east for that particular shipment. So the eastern Caribbean still factors as transshipment weigh stations in drugs moving from south to north.

Diálogo: What is being done to curb this trend?

Lt. Col. Wallace: The Regional Security System (RSS) operates a C-26 aircraft which conducts maritime surveillance patrols, and that is a direct action against the trafficking. When those aircrafts are on patrols and they come across any drugs, the individual islands are notified and the vessels are dispatched to try to intercept them.

Diálogo: And what about internally?

Lt. Col. Wallace: Internally for St. Kitts, we are conducting joint operations and joint patrols between the Police and the Defence Force. We do joint patrols, joint operations to stem the rate of the murders, to recover as many guns as we can, and also the drugs that are on the island. We do have some locally growing marijuana; again the Defence Force is active in marijuana eradication operations in the mountains, so that is a local response. And the Coast Guard patrols the coasts to help to alleviate that problem.

Diálogo: How about interaction with other countries including the U.S.?

Lt. Col. Wallace: Well, interaction with the other countries is coordinated through the RSS with the other RSS-member states. We also work with the U.S. and their Coast Guard, although due to other commitments in the West and the conflict in the Middle East, they have taken away a lot of the assets from the Caribbean. But we still try to do what we can.

Diálogo: What about lessons learned from other countries in the region?

Lt. Col. Wallace: Last September we created what we called Delta teams. The Delta teams are Police and Defence Force teams that work 24/7. Their job is to deal with the problem, so that is how far we have gone. The team operates out of Camp Springfield Defence Headquarters, so that shows how closely they are integrated. The training is done by the Defence Force. The team members train together so they’re able to operate together. They do not go out individually; they always go out as a team, so that speaks to the level of cooperation. In regards to a state of emergency, we do not see the need to go in that route as of yet; but we do have very tough laws. For example, that anti-gun legislation which gives extraordinary powers to the police in dealing with the gang problem.

Diálogo: Is being a gang member considered a crime in St. Kitts?

Lt. Col. Wallace: It is. Being a member of a gang, or even pretending to be a member of a gang, is considered a crime. So if they’re sporting markings, or colors, or anything which may tie them to a gang, even if they’re not members, the fact that you have these markings, then you’ll be classified as belonging to a gang. And it is not for the law to prove that you are, but for you to prove that you aren’t. So we don’t have to go to a state of emergency to deal with that problem. Our Defence Force Act also has a section that deals with support to the civil power, and that gives the governor general, our head of state, the authority to have the Defence Force work directly with the Police without going through our parliament, and that authority lasts six months. That is already in place, and we are currently working with the police. It gives the Defence Force wide powers. We can carry out stop-and-search without the police.

Diálogo: What triggers that sort of authorization?

Lt. Col. Wallace: It’s a request from the commissioner of Police based on the local security situation. So because of the problems we’re having with the murders and gang violence, the commissioner deemed it necessary to have the full support of the Defence Force. The request was made, the authorization was given and the Defence Force can now fully support the Police. Now having said that, we don’t go out as a rule and do it by ourselves, we still work along with the Police and have the joint teams go out and do joint operations. But the authority allows the Defence Force to run patrols by themselves if it becomes necessary to engage in a situation and take immediate action as opposed to waiting for a police officer to arrive.