Opinion: Young criminals: the next generation

POSTED: 01/4/12 12:07 PM

Frank Pauw, the Chief Commissioner of police on Rotterdam-Rijnmond had a rather alarming message in his New Year’s speech yesterday. The good old repeat offender – the drug addict who breaks into cars to support his habit – is disappearing. Instead the Netherlands is now faced increasingly with new repeat offenders; they are younger, craftier and more violent.

Pauw says that the trend is about youngsters that are after status, monetary gain or a kick. They intimidate their neighborhood and the police and they feel invincible. They still operate in groups, but compared to before the cooperation is more casual and not so closely knit.

Most of these criminal youngsters were in touch with Youth Care early on but that seemed to be no guarantee for their future behavior. Pauw made an attempt to look at the bright side, saying that the majority of young people are doing well. At the same time, he said, we know already now that some 12-year-olds will surface in the coming years as robbers or burglars.

The figures Pauw presented were not all that positive. Police arrested 246 robbers last year, compare to 160 the year before, but the number of robberies remained with 381 the same. A source of concern is that 60 percent of the robbers is younger than 24.
We don’t have the exact figures for St. Maarten but we know one thing for sure: the average age of robbers on the Friendly Island is closer to 18 than to 24. We also know that criminals move to different activities as they get on in age. Human smuggling is the domain of criminals in the twilight of their career (think cab driver Bolan, he just turned 65), and the drugs scene is dominated by men in their thirties like the Arrindells that were shot to death last year.

Talking about figures, we realize that the local police force has not released any statistics for two years now. That’s a pity, because we would like to know where we stand in terms of fighting crime.

We sure as hell have a bloody year behind us with seventeen murders. On the upside, the suspects for the majority of these killings are behind bars, and two of them were sentenced to life in prison in December.

We also note increasingly positive comments on local internet sites about reports that police have arrested criminal suspects.

Looking at the comments Police Chief Pauw made in Rotterdam, we realize that crime is getting tougher in St. Maarten as well. The ease with which criminals settle their scores and the ease with which dirt poor idiots kill people for a measly five bucks is sickening.

Oh, of course we have to mitigate this statement with regards to criminal settlements. We’re not in favor of killing anyone, no matter what the crime is, but we also think that people who choose for a life of crime also accept the professional risks. In the drug trade, the most common risk is a bullet in your head.

These criminal killings should not be our main concern. Our attention ought to be on those citizens who commit crimes for other reasons: out of poverty or because they don’t know what they are doing due to a psychological disorder.

This happens more often than most people realize, but it is probably the single most important issue our community needs to deal with, if we want to have a fighting chance to live up to the Friendly Island image.

We know that between 20 and 25 percent of the American population suffers from a mental illness. That’s between 62.5 and 78.2 million people. In St. Maarten, the Mental Health Foundation has 500 patients. On an estimated population of 54,000, that is less than one percent, so there could very well be a hidden group of between 10,000 and 13,000 citizens that battle some sort of hidden illness.

While these figures are not based on any scientific research, and while a direct comparison with the United States may very well distort the picture for all kinds of reasons, we think it is safe to assume that there are far more mental patients on our island than the Mental Health Foundation is currently having under its care.

It does not matter whether we are dealing with 500, 5000, or 13,000 people. What matters is that these numbers are significant and that they should not be ignored.

So next time somebody starts about fighting crime, this aspect ought to be taken into account, and we’ll have to ask ourselves if we dedicate sufficient resources to give those citizens the best possible care. From a community perspective, that money would be well spent.

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