Do not quote or cite without permission



Klaus de Albuquerque

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

College of Charleston

Charleston, SC, USA 29424


Fax: (843)953-5824


Jerome L. McElroy

Department of Business and Economics

Saint Mary's College

Notre Dame, IN, USA 46556-5001


Fax: (219) 284-4716

(October, 1999)

An earlier version of this paper was presented to the International Conference on Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Caribbean, Bridgetown, Barbados, October 14-16, 1998.


The popular tourist myth of the Caribbean as a string of island paradises is being undermined by the realities of crime. Even some of the smaller and more remote communities in the region have experienced some spillover effects of escalating crime rates. Much of this escalation has occurred since the late 1980's and is a direct result of the large volume of drugs transiting the region and the increasing number of guns finding their way into most states (de Albuquerque, 1995; de Albuquerque, 1996a). But there are other contributing factors. With relatively high rates of unemployment and underemployment, increasing income inequality, and the progressive marginalization of males who fail to meet proscribed standards of education, it is small wonder that a predatory class of young men has emerged. It is this group that is disproportionately responsible for the increases in violent and property related offenses and that has driven fear into the hearts of the citizenry.

The extent of this fear is attested to, particularly in urban areas in the region, by the popularity of burglar bars (grill work), high walls and fences, guard dogs, and security guard services. In the Kingston metropolitan area this fear has reached such hysterical proportions that the middle class and the rich go as far as to grill in their bedrooms and lock their guard dogs in with them at night. Ordinary Jamaicans are rushing to arm themselves. In 1997 more than 10,000 applications for gun licenses were made but only 1,096 licenses were issued (Virtue,

1998). Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, speaking at his Party's National Executive Committee meeting in January 1998, intoned,

"We cannot continue like this. We must save Jamaica from lawlessness" (The Gleaner Online 1998a). The recent wave of middle-class emigration (MBAs, accountants, engineers) in late 1999 suggests the situation is deteriorating (Rosenberg, 1999).

Even formerly tranquil St. Kitts has been rocked by lawlessness over the past four years beginning with a series of drug-related murders (de Albuquerque, 1996a). As of this writing American students at an offshore Veterinary School in St. Kitts were leaving the island after "purportedly" being threathened by drug lord Charles "Little Nut" Miller. Miller is fighting extradition to the U.S. (he is also wanted in Canada) and is afraid of being kidnapped Noreiga-style by U.S. agents and whisked out of the country (Larmer, 1998).

Does the level of crime in the Caribbean really warrant the kind of fortress mentality that has emerged among the more privileged classes in Kingston, Port of Spain and Georgetown? Is violent crime so endemic in some areas that it is creating a new kind of Caribbean emigrant? Is the current lawlessness in Jamaica a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the region as drugs and indiscipline tear away at the social fabric?


This expansion of an earlier study (de Albuquerque, 1984) attempts a long-period examination of serious crime in the region. It contains three main sections. The first reviews the general and specific (Caribbean) literature linking crime and development with some special emphasis on Jamaica. The second tracks violent and property crime rates for nine selected islands and offers plausible explanations for the escalation of crime and for inter-island differences. The third provides a preliminary case study of the determinants of crime in Barbados.


The literature on crime and development is extensive, disparate in approach, and difficult to easily classify and compare. Despite the caution this diversity suggests, two general findings seem warranted: development is positively related to crime, specifically property crime, and negatively related to violent crime (Bennett, 1991). Of the two dominant explanatory frameworks, the Durkheimian or modernization perspective has been the most enduring. It links rising crime (both violent and property) to the break-up of traditional normative social controls (extended family, community ties, religious beliefs, ascribed status relations) during the process of urbanization-industrialization (Neuman and Berger, 1988).

Different authors emphasize different dimensions of the disequilibrium: the anonymity, youth displacement and social disorganization associated with rapid rural-urban migration (Shelly, 1981; Archer and Gartner, 1984); the disjunction between modern and traditional values (Clinard and Abbott, 1973; Messner, 1982, 1988; Stack, 1984); cultural heterogeneity and conflict (Quinney, 1970; Hansmann and Quigley, 1982); and the systemic frustration generated by absolute and/or relative inquality during urban industrial growth (Wolf, 1971; Wellford, 1974; Krohn, 1976, 1978; Krahn and others, 1986). A related deprivation variant emphasizes blocked opportunity among marginalized out-groups, the so-called subculture or culture of violence thesis (Wolfgang and Ferracuti, 1967; Gartner, 1990). This is somewhat analogous to Marxian theories based on class conflict and uneven and contradictory capitalist development (Shelly, 1981; Neuman and Berger, 1988).

The Durkheimian formulation, however, has been plagued by two problems: weak and inconsistent empirical support, and a failure to differentiate the determinants of violent versus property crime. Alternatively, the ecological or opportunity or routine activities perspective has been developed from the cost/benefit calculus characteristic of the Chicago school (Neuman and Berger, 1988). This theory emphasizes economic and demographic changes over cultural and normative patterns, and tends to predict increases in property-related crime only. The forces of industrialization and urbanization increase the availability of material goods and the pool of young potential offenders, and simultaneously reduce kinship contact (potential violence) and the possibility of detection (through anonymity, increased mobility, etc.) (Kick and LaFree, 1985). Industriali- zation creates more "suitable [crime] targets" and fewer and fewer "capable guardians" (Cohen and Felson, 1979; Maxfield, 1987). This approach appears more consistent with recent empirical work (Avison and Loring, 1986; Lafree and Kick, 1986; Bennett, 1991).


Historically the Caribbean has had fairly high violent crime rates coupled with very low property crime rates when compared to most developing regions in the world (United Nations, 1977). With the growth of urban areas in the late nineteenth and early part of this century, property crime rates increased (Trotman, 1986). These rates mushroomed with the post-1960 restructuring of many Caribbean economies away from plantation monocrops toward tourism, related construction, and light manufacturing (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1983). In the 1970's violent crime rates began to increase and in Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) they were comparable to, or exceeded, those of the U.S. (de Albuquerque, 1984). In fact, the pattern of violent crime (heavily gang, drug, and gun-related) in these two territories parallels that of the U.S. These two states now have the dubious distinction of having some of the highest homicide rates and overall violent crime rates in the Americas (de Albuquerque, 1996a; de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999).

Most of the earlier explanations of crime in the Caribbean fit loosely under the Durkheimian modernization umbrella (Mahabir 1985). Crime is the byproduct of the decline in traditional informal social control mechanisms (so important in the rural Caribbean) and the rise and shifting character of urbanization with its new and disjunctive patterns of wealth, residential segregation and work arrangements (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1983). Much of the crime is committed by economically disenfranchised urban youth for whom the promise of material affluence concomitant with modernization is only realizable through illegitimate means, so crime becomes redefined as a subsistence/survival strategy (de Albuquerque, 1984). As a corollary, the familiar economic deprivation argument blames crime on unemployment, poverty, and income inequality which tend to increase during the initial stages of development.

The modernization thesis underlies the work of Allen (1976), Dodd and Parris (1976), Parris (1980), Pryce and Figueira (1980), Jones (1981), McElroy and de Albuquerque (1983), and, to some extent, Mahabir (1985), Ellis (1988), and Headley (1996). Many of these studies emphasize urban deprivation. For example, Pryce and Figueira (1980) note that St. George, which contains the two largest urban centers (Port of Spain and Arima) and is home to one third the population of Trinidad and Tobago, accounted for 58 percent of all crimes in 1972. Likewise, Parris (1980) notes that crime in Guyana is largely confined to the three urban areas of Georgetown, Linden and New Amsterdam, while de Albuquerque (1995) reports that metropolitan Kingston, which contained only 27 percent of Jamaica's population in 1993, accounted for 60 percent of the murders.

Empirical testing of the modernization framework, however, has been relatively limited and inconclusive. For example, de Albuquerque (1984) found no relationship between unemployment, the price of food, and violent crime. He did find that modernization (a composite indicator incorporating infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy, per capita GNP, and so on) and tourist density were positively related to rape. In a study of self-reported crime in Barbados, Ramoutar (1995) found drug-related offenders were characterized by low socio-economic status. These weak results were partly responsible for the search for alternative explanations: the deviant socialization of youth ("differential association") in so-called ghetto areas (Allen, 1976; Dodd and Parris, 1976; Brana-Shute, 1980); and an emerging "cowboy mentality" (Lacey, 1977) traceable to the influence of American and Italian "B" movies that glorified violence and glamorized the criminal lifestyle (Manley, 1975; Parris, 1980).

One of the more promising theories is a tourism variant of the opportunity/routine activities perspective (Ryan, 1993). This model argues that theft and robbery tend to increase in mass tourist destinations because visitors represent "attractive targets" carrying much portable wealth with little precaution. Because of unfamiliarity, they are more likely (than residents) to wander into crimogenic areas where "capable guardians" are absent and are viewed by potential assailants as less likely to report crimes or accurately identify the perpetrators if they do. Two case studies tend to broadly support the theory. For example, air arrivals were a significant predictor of property crime in the USVI between 1960-1979 (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1983), and tourists in Barbados in the early 1990s were much more likely to be victimized by property crime than residents (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999).


While the modernization and opportunity perspectives may be plausible general explanations for the escalation of property crime in the region, they have been less useful for understanding the rise in violent crime in general, and the meteoric increase in violence in Jamaica since the mid-1970s in particular. Early observers argued that political tribalism and clientilism, which pitted poor urban communities against one another, offered a superior explanation (Stone, 1983; Stephens and Stephens, 1986). With a long history of arming ghetto youth, Jamaica's rival political parties were clearly responsible for the creation of a subculture of violence and intimidation that emerged in the 1970's, particularly in West Kingston (see Gunst, 1995; de Albuquerque, 1996d; Headley, 1996). In the 1980 election campaign 889 people were killed (de Albuquerque, 1996d), many in shootouts between rival political gangs ("posses"). The murder rate for that bloody election year was not surpassed until 1997 (The Gleaner Online 1998b).

Since 1980 periodic eruptions of gun violence in Kingston have prompted a backlash of heavy-handed patrols by the army and police when it became evident that rival political activists could no longer control their enforcers. With the increasing distrust of the police and army, particularly in opposition strongholds, many of the so called "garrison" constituencies came entirely under the control of posse leaders ("Dons"), who provide residents protection and other necessities (food, money, school books)financed largely through drug dealing and raids on rival communities (de Albuquerque, 1996d). These developments and the growth of the drug trade have spawned the most recent theory of Jamaica violence, the spread of the narco-economy (Harriott, 1996; de Albuquerque and McElroy, 2000).

Indeed, in West Kingston a ganja-economy had emerged in 1970 as local gangs became increasingly sustained by marijuana exports to the U.S. By the late 1970s the gangs, many posse members, including some infamous Dons (Bucky Marshall, Claudie Massop), were traveling frequently back and forth to the U.S. where they succeeded in taking over the ganja trade and internationalizing the operations of Jamaican gangs. In 1988, the U.S. stepped up the deportation of Jamaican immigrants convicted of a variety of felony offenses, including murder. By the end of 1996 over 6,000 Jamaicans had been returned from foreign countries, the majority for drug related offenses (Becker, 1996). Many of these "deportees" soon took up where they left off, introducing American gang-style drive-by executions, the recruitment of juveniles (lookouts, runners, hitmen -- see Harriott, 1996) and a whole range of semiautomatic weapons in Jamaica and elsehwere (Trinidad, Belize, Guyana).

In summary, it was the "changing social organization of crime and criminals", particularly the establishment of a narco-economy with overseas branches, and the "social embededness and power of Jamaican criminal networks" that was primarily responsible for the escalation of violent crime in Jamaica (Harriott, 1996:1). Gangs, populated by chronic offenders, did not emerge sui generis in Jamaica; they were originally the creation of politicians, and they are "embedded" in Jamaican and other Caribbean societies like Antigua and St. Kitts with linkages to the political elite, the police, the judiciary, immigration and customs, local businesses, and the citizenry.

Among the chronic offenders are the "super predators", those very violent criminals who commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Jamaican commentator Vasciannie (1997) calls them "dog-hearted murderers"--they "will kill you without a thought, assassinate you for a small fee,...enter your home with pure malice and take your life...slay you if you look at them too hard." Harriott (1996) reports that the Jamaican police estimated in 1994 that there were 3,000 "hardened" criminals. These super predators are appearing elsewhere in the region as Jamaican drug traffickers extend their efforts to the Eastern Caribbean and as Jamaican-style posses spring up everywhere.

Bohning (1997), citing regional law enforcement officials, contends the local drug trafficking groups in places like St. Kitts etc., got their training in Jamaica in the 1970s as ganja traffickers, an obvious reference to Charles Miller.

The emergence of narco-economies elsewhere in the region (Puerto Rico, the USVI, St. Kitts, and to a lesser extent, Antigua) and narco-political corruption (see de Albuquerque 1996b and 1996c) has placed drug lords and their gang members in positions of great power (Griffith, 1997). Witness the case of St. Kitts where Charles Miller has been able to successfully fight extradition to the U.S. (Larmer, 1998) or David Lawrence's murder trial (Lawrence is accused of murdering a police superintendent) that has three times ended in a hung jury (Rohter, 1997). It is small wonder that Caribbean states are rushing to re-introduce the death penalty and to speed up hangings of convicted murderers and several drug lords.


In an earlier study, de Albuquerque (1984) noted some of the data problems involved in comparative studies of crime in the Caribbean. These include (1) the reliability of longitudinal data on crime (recording inconsistencies, poor record keeping, definitional changes, etc.) and on the socio-economic and demographic variables normally used in the analysis of crime, (2) the lack of comparability in offense/offender classification systems, (3) unclear definitions for some offenses, and (4) a need to modernize the labeling of some offenses.

To minimize such problems, this study was limited to serious crimes where the definitions were unambiguous and the crimes were comparable for nine Caribbean states selected because of relatively reliable crime data. As a result, the category of serious assault was discarded because assaults of different levels of seriousness were often combined, categories overlapped, and sometimes simple assaults were included with felonious assaults. Grenada, for example, has five categories of serious assault--maiming, wounding, causing harm, dangerous harm and grievous harm. It was difficult to define the ambiguous category of "causing harm". It was also suspected that simple assaults were fairly often included with serious assaults in figures for Antigua and Dominica.

Several caveats need to be mentioned. The St. Kitts/Nevis data on murder included manslaughter, but we determined the number of such cases was negligible. The data on rape for Antigua and St. Kitts included "indecent assault" and for Jamaica "carnal abuse". The data on larceny was made comparable by removing data on praedial larceny (absent as a category in some islands) and larceny of motor vehicles. For burglary various categories were combined, for example, breaking and entering, house breaking, other break-ins, and entering a dwelling house at night.

The longitudinal crime data are presented in tabular form in Tables 1 to 5. They are averaged for the 1980's and 1990's with of course the caveat that these averages are not based on equal numbers of years. Average 1980's rates are not presented for Grenada since the 1980's is only represented by one year. Using data from de Albuquerque (1984), murder, robbery and rape rates for 1969-73 are compared with our data for 1989-93. These are graphed in Figures 1 to 3.

Because of data completeness, Barbados was selected as a case study to assess the relative predictability of the modernization/deprivation thesis versus the opportunity theory on island crime patterns. Three standard indicators -- per capita GDP, per capita electricity consumption and the unemployment rate -- were chosen because of their frequent use in the literature (LaFree and Kick, 1986; Neuman and Berger, 1988; Bennett, 1991). Three other indicators were developed to explore special features of the small-island tourist society. The retail price index was used as a proxy measure of economic pressure in an import-intensive and inflation prone economy. The unemployment rate and inflation rate were combined to create an additional measure of economic pressure/inequality, the so-called "misery index" (Gordon 1998: 361). The daily census of tourists was developed to operationalize the opportunity/routine activities theory. The annual average tourist daily census was computed as follows:

# of stayovers x average length of stay + # of cruise arriv.


This was employed as a measure of tourist density or presence. All independent variables are presented in Table 6 while the dependent crime rate variables are listed in Table 7.

Accordingly, in light of the literature, three broad hypotheses were formulated for testing: (1) that all indicators would be positively related to property crime as suggested by the opportunity theory; (2) that the tourism presence indicator would be a significant determinant of property crime as the Ryan (1993) variant of the opportunity model proposes; and (3) that violent crime would not be explained. This last is based both on weak and inconsistent empirical support for the Durkheimian thesis in the literature as well as the fact that we were unable to measure some of the major influences on violent crime in the region: drug use and the spread of the narco-economy, emergence of subcultures of violence, and so on.

The hypotheses were tested using linear (OLS) regression analysis. Bivariate and multiple regression models were run, and correlation analysis was used to eliminate collinearity in the selection of appropriate (unrelated) independent variables in the multivariate models. In cases where serious autocorrelation was present, the data set was transformed into first differences. The results are presented in Table 8.



Decadal differences in murder rates were negligible for Barbados and Dominica, while they show moderate increases for Antigua, Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica (see Table 1). If 1980 data for Jamaica is excluded, the decadal differences are more marked. St. Kitts/Nevis saw its murder rate almost double

from 5.9 in the 1980's to 10.2 in the 1990's. This is clearly the result of the spate of drug-related murders which began in late 1994 with the murder of the Deputy Prime Minister's son and his companion and the gunning down of a police superintendent

(de Albuquerque 1996a).

(Table 1 about here)

Jamaica and the USVI continue to have the highest murder rates in the region. Between 1970 and 1977 Jamaica's average murder rate was 16 per 100,000 (de Albuquerque, 1984). In the 1980s it rose to 21.4 and in the 1990s it stands at 27.7. A closer examination of murders in the 1980s reveals that the majority resulted from domestic disputes (de Albuquerque 1995). By the 1990s, however, the pattern had changed visibly with gang feuds and robbery in 1995 accounting for 46 percent of all murders (Economic and Social Survey 1995). Paralleling this has been the increasing incidence in the use of firearms in the commission of murders. In 1988, firearms were used in 50 percent of the murders and by 1996 in 68 percent (Williams 1997). The majority of perpetrators are young, unemployed/casually employed males, aged 15-29, but this group is also disproportionately victimized by murder. The number of women murdered has increased steadily, and in 1997 women made up 10.3 percent of all murder victims (Taylor, 1998).

In both decades the Kingston-St.Andrew metropolitan area accounted for the majority of the murders. In 1995, 59 percent of the murders occurred in the corporate area (Economic and Social Survey 1995). De Albuquerque (1995) calculated the 1993 murder rate for metropolitan Kingston at 58 per 100,000, second only to Washington, D.C. (75 per 100,000) among metropolitan areas in North America and the Caribbean. While the clearance rates for all murders is below 50 percent in Jamaica (37.9 percent in 1997), in places like West Kingston clearance rates are in their teens (de Albuquerque, 1996d; Sinclair, 1998). The code of silence is very strong in Kingston's garrison constitu- encies, either out of fear of reprisal, hatred for the army and police, or loyalty to the Dons.

The 1990s violent crime scene in Jamaica has been complicated by the large influx of deportees and semi-automatic weapons. For every person on the Jamaica police's most wanted list, 30 or so deportees are returned from abroad (de Albuquerque 1996d). Overseas Jamaican posses have long been associated with smuggling high-powered assault weapons (M16's, M-10's and Tec-9's) and semi-automatic pistols (Berettas, Glocks, and Brownings) to their posse brethren back home. Former Police Commissioner Trevor McMillan complained bitterly to U.S. authorities for an obvious lapse in the surveillance of Jamaican posses in the United States when weapons shipments were discovered by Jamaican authorities (de Albuquerque, 1996d). Guns have so permeated Kingston's garrison constituencies that juveniles often parade around with guns, Rambo style.

The USVI, with a murder rate second only to Jamaica, saw its average 1980s murder rate (20.1 per 100,000) more than double the 1970s rate (9.0). As in Jamaica, this phenomenal increase was a result of drug feuds, gang vendettas, and the ready availability of guns. The latter are directly linked to the increasing number of robberies of tourists that end in murder. Beginning with the so-called Fountain Valley massacre in St. Croix in 1972, when seven whites and one black employee were murdered at a golf course club house, white tourists have been disproportionately victimized. Even the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet canceled all shore leave in St. Thomas in 1994 following 12 violent attacks (robberies, assaults, and one murder) against sailors. Since 1994 there have been several execution style slayings of visitors to the "American Paradise" (see de Albuquerque and McElroy,1999). In 1992, the U.S. showcase in the Caribbean had a higher violent crime rate (2,776 per 100,000) than New York City (2,162). Things have calmed down more recently in St. Thomas in the wake of the massive rebuilding effort after hurricane Marilyn (1995). However, sister island St. Croix saw its 1997 homicide rate more than double over 1996 (The Electronic Evergreen 23 April 1997).

Guyana's moderately high murder rates can also partly be explained by the increasing number of guns in circulation and used in the commission of crimes, especially robbery. Gang feuds and drug related killings seem less of a factor in Guyana's homicide cases. Domestic/family and neighborhood/community disputes still account for the majority of the homicides. One surprising finding is that murder rates have not increased significantly in Trinidad and Tobago, despite public perceptions to the contrary. The spate of highly publicized murders and recent hangings of death row inmates have certainly contributed to this perception.


With the exception of Jamaica, most other Caribbean states have seen dramatic increases in robbery rates (see Table 2).

In 1985 Antigua had a robbery rate of 37.3 per 100,000 and by 1995 this had tripled to 111.4 per 100,000. Barbados has also seen its average 1990s robbery rate more than triple (from 64.6 to 212.2) over its 1980s rates. Likewise, Dominica's rates almost tripled over the same period. Guyana's average robbery rates have increased by over 200 per 100,000 and the USVI's by 164 per 100,000. St. Kitts has witnessed the most dramatic increase in its average decennial robbery rates, an almost five-fold increase closely associated with the rapid rise in drug use and robbery to support addiction (de Albuquerque, 1995). This explanation may also partly apply to the rising robbery rates in Antigua and Dominica. In the former island, scarcely a week goes by that The Daily Observer does not report a particularly bold robbery (see 26 October 1996, 29 October 1996, and 5 November 1996).

(Table 2 about here)

The USVI again has the dubious honor of having the highest robbery rates. Police estimate that 75 percent of robberies in the territory are related to drugs (de Albuquerque, 1996a).

Tourists are much more likely to be victimized than residents, since they carry more portable wealth and are unfamiliar with their surroundings. One unexpected finding is that relatively law abiding Barbados had almost identical robbery rates as Jamaica between 1990-1996. A significant number of the robberies in Barbados are perpetrated against visitors. In fact, visitors are 5 to 6 times more likely to be victimized by robbery than residents (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999). Like elsewhere in the region, robbers are becoming more daring in Barbados and are increasingly arming themselves with semi-automatic pistols (The Nation 1998).

In Jamaica, the situation is quite different with the majority of tourists being afforded protection by being confined to all-inclusive enclaves. Criminals, therefore, prefer to target business establishments and the well to do--the bulk of the reported cases. However, larger numbers of poorer residents, particularly those in West, Central and East Kingston, are routinely robbed, but because of fear of reprisals, these robberies go unreported (Vasciannie, 1997). Indeed, it may be that the level of unreported crime (murder excluded) is higher in Jamaica than anywhere else in the region. This speculation is based on casual observation of the Jamaican crime scene and the fact that robbery rates in Jamaica are significantly lower than in Guyana, Trinidad and the USVI.

On the other hand, Guyana's robbery rates have quite sharply since 1980. Dodd and Parris (1976), Parris (1980), and Dodd (1981) have written extensively about the Guyanese phenomenon of "choke and rob". However, Guyanese criminals have graduated in the 1990s to using firearms and to more selectively targeting their victims--business establishments such as cambios and restaurants, wealthy Guyanese, and the occasional tourist. One favorite tactic is to hold up a business establishment and rob not only the proprietor, but the staff and the patrons as well. The common Guyanese practice of wearing expensive gold jewelry and carrying quite a bit of cash is a motivating factor for robbing venues patronized by middle class and wealthy Guyanese, security guards notwithstanding. For example, on 16 July 1998, an armed gunman involved in three separate robberies in the Bourda area (Georgetown) came away with pendants, chains, rings, gold bands, earrings and one watch valued at Guyanese $706,000. His most successful haul was at a restaurant where he robbed the proprietor, an employee, and a patron (The Starbroek News 1998).

Another relatively new tactic of Guyanese robbers is called "kick down the door" ("home invasions" in the U.S.). The targets are the residences of wealthy Guyanese, mostly Indo-Guyanese, who generally keep large amounts of cash and gold jewelry at home.


Violence against women has escalated in the region and one indicator of this is the increasing incidence of rape. Although most rapes are committed by a person or persons known to the victim, there has been an increase in the number of rapes committed by strangers (de Albuquerque, 1984). Yet there remain some puzzling differences in the rape rates in the nine selected states. Most of the smaller islands (Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts) have higher rates than the larger territories (see Table 3). Based on the senior author's discussions with police authorities and record keepers across the region, we suspect some part of the explanation may lie in reporting discrepancies between large and small islands. However, the data may also indicate that the increasing disrespect and violence being directed towards women in the larger states is spilling over into the smaller territories. Grenada, in this respect, appears to be an anomaly. We are at a loss to explain why Dominica's average rates would nearly double between the 1980s and 1990s, given its relatively low murder and robbery rates. On the other hand, Barbados continues to maintain relatively low rape rates perhaps reflecting the generally lower level of violence in Bajan society.

(Table 3 about here)

Guyana's relatively low rape rates are also somewhat suspect and may reflect the kind of under reporting of particularly sensitive crimes common in close kinship communities (Bayley, 1969) in both poor rural areas (the embarrassment and stigma attached) and in urban ghettoes. In the latter, two important factors could account for the under reporting of rape--fear of reprisal and the general acceptance that young teenage girls living in the same household as the unrelated male partners of their mothers are fair game to these partners.

This pattern of domestic rape in lower and working class communities would also suggest that Jamaica should have comparatively high rape rates, yet Jamaica's average 1990s rates are considerably lower than many of the smaller islands. As in Guyana, fear of further victimization or the loss of income from a male breadwinner may keep victims quiet. The police are often poorly trained to deal with rape victims, and sometimes their attitudes towards victims result in re-victimization. One extreme example is of a woman who went to the Central Police Station in Kingston seeking protection from domestic abuse. She was raped by two policemen and sodomized by a third (The Gleaner 22 June 1998).

Over the past three decades, the USVI has consistently experienced some of the highest rape rates in the region. In the 1970s the average rate was 43.2 per 100,000 (de Albuquerque, 1984). In the 1980s it rose to 66.3 and in the 1990s to 73.6. While many rapes are perpetrated by youths against teenage girls in public housing projects and by older men against unrelated young females (daughters of a common law spouse) living in the same household, there have been increasing numbers of rapes of white residents and tourists (de Albuquerque, 1984; de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999). In an essentially colonized society, where traditional values regarding respecting women have broken down, and where white women, some scantily dressed, are viewed as representatives of the colonizers, rape may take on political overtones. But it is also plausible that patterns of residence (living alone or sharing with other women) among white female residents, and the greater nocturnal geographic mobility of both white residents and tourists, may make them easier targets.


The smaller islands, with the exception of the USVI, have

all shown consistent increases in burglary rates (see Table 4).

In Antigua, burglary rates increased by 600 per 100,000 between the 1980s and 1990s. Corresponding figures for Dominica and St. Kitts/Nevis were 356 and 596 per 100,000 respectively. As in the case of robbery, these dramatic increases are suggestive of the same constellation of high unemployment, widening income inequality, and increasing drug use (de Albuquerque, 1996a). Burglary rates also seem to escalate during certain seasons--Christmas, carnival, etc.--when it is imperative that those engaged in criminal lifestyles have money in their pockets. In

Barbados, the geography of burglary indicates that tourist dwellings (hotel rooms, condominiums, vacation homes) are more likely to be broken into (per 100,000) than resident dwellings (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999). In terms of raw numbers, there are of course more burglaries of resident than tourist dwellings (641 versus 84 in 1993).

(Table 4 about here)

In the larger Caribbean states and the USVI, burglary rates have fluctuated, and in some cases (Jamaica and the USVI), have actually shown declines. The USVI again leads, having burglary rates 10 times higher than Jamaica, and roughly 5 times higher than Guyana and Trinidad. While the USVI shares some of the same structural features with these other states, hard core unemployment among youth, extremes of wealth and poverty, widespread drug addiction, and so on, it has the additional ingredient of high tourist densities and a significant part-year (winter) population. Burglaries of hotel rooms, vacation homes, apartments and condominiums, are frequent, despite numerous security features. Many USVI residents have been burglarized so many times that they have simply stopped reporting minor burglaries to the police.

Jamaica's very low and steadily declining burglary rate needs explication. Clearly what is happening here is that Jamaicans have stopped reporting minor losses in the face of repeated burglaries of homes and businesses (de Albuquerque, 1995). Since the Jamaican police are overwhelmed by violent crime, they often can only make a minimal effort to solve property related offenses. This reinforces public perceptions of police ineffectiveness and the level of under reporting continues to spiral upward (de Albuquerque, 1995; Chuck, 1998). Individual acquaintances in Guyana and Trinidad tell us similar stories about non-reporting in light of perceived police ineffectiveness. As in the case of robbery, non-reporting is even higher in poorer urban communities, whose residents, despite having less to steal from, are just as likely to be burglarized as wealthier residents who can afford burglar bars, guard dogs, and security guards.


Larceny in the region is even more subject to under reporting than burglary. Jamaica, again, provides the prime example. It reports some of the lowest larceny rates among the nine states, Dominica excepted, and yet stealing of all sorts is rife in Jamaican society (see Table 5). Chuck (1998b) notes that

Jamaicans do not even bother to report "shooting with intent" and other gun crimes, which of course raises the specter of why bother to report lesser crimes like larceny. Take the case of

praedial larceny (not included in these reported larceny statistics). Jamaican farmers have long given up reporting crop theft and have instead armed themselves and formed vigilante groups. But Jamaicans living in urban areas do not have recourse to vigilante groups and must endure stealing of all kinds as a simple fact of life in a society where crime has reached epidemic proportions.

(Table 5 about here)

A similar case can be made for Trinidad and Guyana. Wealthy and middle class residents in the former have organized crime watch groups and employed barricades and security guard services, but to no avail. Where large numbers of youth are scuffling (hustling) for a living, anything not tied down or left unguarded will be stolen--from automobile hubcaps to veranda furniture. It has become routine practice in Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad to pay youths to guard one's vehicle (petty ransom essentially) while dining at a restaurant or patronizing a night club. Poorer urban residents are of course not immune to being victimized by larceny; in fact, they may actually have higher rates of victimization because of their criminologic surroundings. The one exception may be the garrison constituencies of West Kingston where a stolen bicycle reported to a "rankin" posse member is quickly recovered.

Larceny rates in the smaller islands, particularly Grenada, and to a lesser extent Antigua and St. Kitts, have shown dramatic increases for all the familiar reasons. Where tourist densities are high (the USVI, Antigua, Barbados, and Grenada increasingly) the pickings are easier. In these islands larceny of valuables from a beach, rental car, and vacation home, apartment, or condominium are common. For example, in Barbados visitors are six to eight times more likely to have valuables stolen from their persons than residents and approximately 20 times more likely to have something stolen from their place of accommodation (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999).

Twenty-Year Differences in Violent Crime Rates

Figures 1 to 3 graphically display 20-year differences (1969-73 to 1989-93) in average murder, robbery and rape rates for some of the 9 states. With respect to murder, two things stand out. First, murder rates have remained remarkably stable over the twenty-year period for Barbados, Dominica and Trinidad. Second, murder rates have increased significantly for Jamaica and the USVI, with Jamaica's rate doubling.

(Figure 1 about here)

Twenty-year average robbery rates show a somewhat different pattern. Dominica's rates have remained exactly the same, while

Barbados' rates rose 1500 percent, Jamaica's by 169 percent, and the USVI's by 368 percent.

(Figure 2 about here)

Rape rates have increased dramatically for all four states represented in Figure 3. The largest twenty-year increase (1960 percent) was posted by Dominica, followed by the USVI (367 percent), Jamaica (205 percent), and Barbados (166 percent).

These increases graphically underscore the increasing violence against women in the region. In addition to aforementioned factors, this violence may in part be a backlash against the rising educational and occupational status of Caribbean women and their greater economic independence (see de Albuquerque and Ruark 1998).

(Figure 3 about here)

The Barbados Case

Table 6 provides a time series of 7 socio-economic indicators (six independent variables) tracked over 17 years. The indicators reveal a slowly growing macro economy in Barbados characterized by high unemployment, relatively flat per capita income, fluctuating tourist arrivals, inflation and levels of immiseration (misery index). Table 7 compiles 10 crime variables

(Table 6 about here)

--(all measured as rates)--murder, rape, robbery, larceny, burglary, violent2 (murder and rape), violent3 (murder, rape, and robbery), prop2 (burglary and larceny), prop3 (burglary, larceny, and robbery), and total5 (murder, rape, robbery, burglary and larceny). Robbery is included in "prop3" since we consider the motivation for robbery to be property related. In general, all crime rates in Barbados tend to increase measurably during the 1980s, peak in the early 1990s, and fall off thereafter.

(Table 7 about here)

The results of regression analyses were modest and somewhat mixed but do indicate local economic influence on crime levels. The eight most significant relationships estimated are reported in Table 8 and examined with reference to the three broad hypo- theses tested. First, the data tend to support the impact of local economic conditions on property-related crime as suggested by the opportunity theory. Second, they provide weak support for the tourism presence variant of the opportunity model. Third, they indicate some unexpected impacts on violent crime.

(Table 8 about here)

Specifically, according to Equation 1, nearly 80 percent of the variation in total property crime (burglary and larceny) was associated with conditions of economic dislocation -- rising inflation and falling electricity consumption: r = .96 -- and increasing visitor densities. Although roughly 100 bivariate and multivariate experiments were run, however, this was the only case where visitor presence was statistically significant.

In the case of other property-related crimes (including robbery), there were some statistically significant results for burglary and robbery but none for larceny and overall property crime (burglary, larceny, robbery). Specific analysis of burglary rates confirmed the influence of economic downturns on property-related crime. Nearly 80 percent of burglary rates was positively associated with the joint interaction of the unemployment rate and the retail price index (see Equation 2). Movements in the price level were responsible for most of the variation in burglary rates (see Equation 3). According to Equation 4, robbery was also significantly "explained" by constrained economic opportunity as measured by the joint interaction of the retail price index and the misery index. This result, however, is somewhat suspect since the Durbin-Watson test is inconclusive suggesting possible autocorrelation, and since it is difficult to conceptually discriminate the separate influences of the two independent variables (r = -.092).

Contrary to expectations, some specific violent crime rates were positively associated with local economic behavior. For example, according to Equation 5, over 40 percent of the variation in violent crime (murder and rape) was "explained" by the positive interaction of per capita electricity consumption and the misery index. These results tend to confirm that violent crime in Barbados is linked to modernization influences and immiseration, and thus lend some support to the Durkheimian perspective. In a follow-up test on violent crime more traditionally defined (murder, rape and robbery), the joint interaction of the retail price and misery indexes "determined" four-fifths of observed behavior (see Equation 6). Caution is again warranted, however, on both theoretical and empirical grounds. First, it is difficult to conceptually separate out the independent influences of the two independent variables, as was indicated in the robbery results. Second, because robbery behaves like a property offense, the inclusion of robbery in this case may distort the variation in violent crime rates since robbery accounts for over two-thirds of the entire dependent variable. In this interpretation, Equation 6 may actually measure other aspects of local economic pressure on primarily property-related crime.

Finally, in a series of bivariate regressions, murder was unrelated to any independent variable while rape was found to be positively and significantly related to unemployment (R2=20 %), per capita electricity consumption (R2=29%), and the retail price index (R2=35%). Only the last "best fit" relationship is reported in Equation 7. It confirms de Albuquerque's earlier (1984) work and it indirectly suggests the pressure of overall economic conditions, particularly the cost of living, on local violence. In mutltivariate regressions on rape rates, no independent variables were statistically significant.

In summary, the Barbados results tend to modestly confirm the link between worsening economic conditions, and to a much weaker extent visitor density levels, on aggregated property crime rates. Similar results (absent visitor presence) were recorded for specific burglary and robbery rates. Similar but less robust and unexpected outcomes were reported for violent crime both narrowly defined(rape and murder) and more conventionally interpreted (murder, rape and robbery). Thus, the Barbados case offers some tentative support for both Durkheimian and opportunity perspectives in the literature. However, this conclusion is circumscribed by the many weaknesses of the test. These include: (1) the limited number of observations for which complete data were available; (2) the particular years examined -- a period of especially sluggish tourist growth (Maxwell Stamp, 1991); (3) the use of some non-standard independent variables (retail price and misery indexes, daily tourist census) as well as linear estimators where non-linear models may be more appropriate (Bennett, 1991); and (4) perhaps most importantly, the exclusion of key difficult-to-measure determinants - a growing subculture of violence, the proliferation of posses, rising drug activity, the increasing number of guns, growing levels of indiscipline and so on.


During the past two decades, serious crime rates (except murder) have significantly increased for most of the nine Caribbean countries. Most striking increases have occurred in property-related crime, notably robbery and burglary, especially in the smaller states (Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, St. Kitts). Jamaica and the USVI report the highest murder rates in the sample. While such trends point to the influence of economic deprivation and its many manifestations, as demonstrated by the Barbados case study, they also indirectly suggest the growing marginalization of youth, the prevalence of gangs and guns, the spread of drug trafficking, and the rise of intimidating cultures of violence across the region. The increasing indiscipline char-

acteristic of such subcultures may also be partly responsible, along with other aforementioned factors, for the general decline in respect for women reflected in the marked increases in rape rates across almost all islands in the sample.

This study argues that the actual situation may be worse than the trends recorded above. Significant discrepancies between larger and smaller countries particularly in property crime rates suggest under reporting (corroborated by Stone, 1988). For example, Jamaica's average robbery rates for 1990-1996 were roughly identical to those of Barbados for the same years while recorded burglary and larceny rates were over 75 percent lower. Such conflicting evidence indicates the need for victimization surveys and accompanying ethnographic studies (see Lieber, 1981; Gunst, 1995) to determine the extent the poor are victimized and the extent that they report victimization. We suspect they are disproportionately victimized and least likely to report.

In conclusion, given the reality of these longitudinal patterns of serious crime, it is not surprising that many Caribbean states are rushing to reintroduce capital punishment and are relinquishing sovereignty over their territorial waters to the United States (the notorious Shiprider Agreement - see de Albuquerque, 1997) in a bid to stanch the flow of drugs. Other states are establishing new narcotics units and special investi-

gative squads, stepping up combined army and police patrols and sweeps in crime ridden neighborhoods, and attempting to negotiate truces between rival gangs. But these are short-term responses. The longer term solutions like reducing income inequality, adequately funding drug education/treatment programs, rooting out the corruption which sustains the gangs, and ensuring the benefits of tourism are more widely distributed must also be addressed. They are also much more difficult to achieve especially in an environment dominated by neoliberal policies.


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This study examines violent and property crime trends for nine Caribbean countries and presents a case study of Barbados. While murder rates remained relatively stable for Barbados, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad, they increased markedly in Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Since 1980 robbery rates have risen sharply in St. Kitts, Barbados, and Dominica-islands increasingly penetrated by drugs. Rape rates also show significant increases reflecting a uniform rise in violence against women. Similar increases are observed for property crime rates with some notable exceptions suggesting under reporting.

Primary factors responsible for the serious crime wave include the increasing spread of the narco economy and the emergence of a violent subculture of marginalized, unemployed youth. The case study of Barbados indicates that worsening local economic conditions, and visitor density levels to a lesser extent, impact both property and violent crime, lending some modest support for both the Durkheimian and opportunity perspectives in the general literature on crime and development.