SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Bermuda is reaching out to the FBI and other overseas law enforcement agencies to help break up violent gangs that are threatening the mid-Atlantic island’s image as a tranquil tourist haven.
The British territory, shaken by a spate of rare, deadly shootings blamed on drug gang rivalries, said last week that it has invited veterans of gang wars in the United States and the United Kingdom to provide training and join island patrols.
“Our community is under siege because we didn’t want to get involved — but it is past the time to get involved,” Public Safety Minister David Burch said as he announced the requests for foreign assistance and called on islanders to help police.
Four people have been killed in Bermuda in a month — more slayings than the island of 64,000 people typically sees in an entire year. Police say more than 200 people are active in the gangs, which model themselves on groups in eastern U.S. cities.
Bermuda’s murder rate is still low compared with the Caribbean, where drug-related crime pushed homicide levels to near record levels in several islands last year.
But some warn that worse violence could lie ahead unless Bermuda addresses deep social rifts on an island where gun violence overwhelmingly involves blacks who make up about two-thirds of the population. A recent Columbia University study says only 50 percent of black Bermudian males enrolled in public high school graduate, leaving them with little hope of tapping the affluence Bermuda has attained as an international business center.
“We’re going to have an even bigger problem if we don’t get on top of this marginalization of black men,” said Rolfe Commissiong, an adviser to Bermuda’s premier.
The recent violence concentrated in the central parishes near the capital, Hamilton, led islanders to launch an organization that has held peace marches and town hall meetings. One of the founders, Wayne Caines, said he was moved to act after a member of his church lost a son last month.
“We realized it had struck us right in our very heart,” said Caines, a former senator who is now CEO of Digicel Bermuda.
Help began arriving this week as FBI agents held a two-day seminar with Bermuda police on anti-gang tactics.
A leader of the New York Police Department’s gang division has consulted with Bermuda police by phone, according to NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne. Burch said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has a home in Bermuda, offered to arrange assistance to island police.
Bermuda’s government also has approved the short-term recruitment of officers from the United Kingdom, Burch said.
Premier Ewart Brown issued a statement this week seeking to allay the fears of islanders and tourists alike.
“I want to reassure all our citizens that Bermuda is still a largely safe and peaceful country,” he said. “Bermuda is still as safe as always for our visitors.”