Mike Campbell / AmbergrisCaye.com – The crime situation in Belize and San Pedro has escalated to the point where it has become the major topic in many conversations and personal safety has become a prime concern for many. Crime prevention, detection and successful prosecution require close cooperation between police and the community they serve. The community must trust the police to be honest and fair and the police must trust the community to be supportive and helpful. This cooperation between police and the community is the single most important factor to good policing of the community.
In San Pedro and throughout the Nation there is a distinct disconnect between the community and the police. This is true in spite of the obvious fact that the police are paid by the taxes of the community to provide protection and order necessary in a Civil Society. Police activities or lack of often form the butt of jokes by children and teens who let their disrespect be know at an early age. Indeed respect must be earned and it is difficult for a parent to instill respect for the law when it is sometimes difficult to respect those who are paid to enforce it. This is truly a serious problem and is no longer a laughing matter.
To move forward we must admit that the Belize National Police Force in its present form is not able to deal with the rampant violent crime that is shaking the very foundations of our Nation. Conviction rates are abysmal and escapes from custody are common. The community has lost faith in the police to protect them from the worst elements of our society as they are paid to do. Crime is a community problem and can only be dealt with by the community. The problem is not the police themselves. Nor is it the politicians who truly do want to stop crime and have done their best. The root of this problem lies within the very preconceptions that have formed Police policy and organization for all these years. We have never grown from a colonial police force to a community based police force. The Belize National Police Force is an extension of the colonial system where all power was retained by the Governor and communities were not allowed to police themselves furthering their dependence on the colonial government and making them much easier to control. Our very small population was also a major factor.
This structure and long established policies in the Police Force are primarily responsible for the disconnect between the Police and those they are paid to serve and protect. Without effective cooperation between community and police crime control will never be possible. The long established policy of rotating officers around the country has been our downfall. The preconception was that officers would become corrupted if allowed to stay in one place for too long. Of course this assumes that both the officers and the community they serve are basically dishonest. Our Police are never from the community they are assigned to and are usually forced to live in substandard conditions. Having no real ties to the community they are regarded as outsiders and do not receive the full cooperation of the community they serve.
Knowing they will be transferred in a few years there is no motivation to help the community and further they have no apparent responsibility for their actions to the community only to the chain of command. The result is that the community does not trust the police and the police do not show respect for the community. They are trained to resist attempts at friendship with residents as it makes them more susceptible to corruption. The result is an unmotivated police force that receives little support from the public in general. This antagonistic relationship between police and community is exploited by the criminal element. They know that by the time the police figure out what is really going on in an area they will be transferred.
The police must be part of the community as well as answerable to the community they serve in order to be effective. San Pedro Police from top to bottom should be hired and fired by the Town based on their performance. We should have complete say as to who is policing our community and if they do not perform they must be replaced. Becoming a police is a commitment to the community. A San Pedro Police should love San Pedro and regard the job as a permanent position. Ideally they will share the love of community that we all have and be motivated to do the best job. We have no opportunity to vet our police and know little about who is policing us. Until recently we were unaware that deceased PC Sanchez had been in various incidents his previous posting. We as a Town would have never hired him to protect and serve us but our money was used to pay his salary. Sgt. Reyes who was apparently blameless will not be allowed to return to San Pedro although he has done a good job for the community and helped protect us from a cop gone bad. He should certainly be reinstated to the San Pedro Branch. He has earned our respect.
Rest assured that if the police were answerable directly to the people of San Pedro we would all work together to stamp out crime. All residents know of various crack houses that are never touched but everyone knows they are there and we all make assumptions as to why that is. Our Mayor does not have the power to demand performance from our police even though it is our money that pays them. This is an unacceptable situation. The trips from Belmopan by various top police , meetings with the various business groups and marches against crime do nothing except waste time in an ever widening spiral of violence. We know how to police San Pedro and should have the right to hire our own police.
I notice one of our neighborhood watches has hired guards and they are proving effective. If we cannot control our own police in the future all the neighborhood watches will hire armed guards for the neighborhoods. The next step will be untrained militias and private police forces. It is much better that we take control of our police and take back our towns and country from the criminal elements who are attacking our society with impunity.
Any thought that we are not capable of or responsible enough to handle our own police without help from Belmopan is ridiculous. It is Belmopan who cannot control our police and crime epidemic. The buck in San Pedro should stop at the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police and all San Pedro officers should be hired and paid by San Pedro Town Council. If the Chief cannot perform or control his men we must replace him and anyone else that is not giving 100% to our fight against crime. Under this system of community policing police brutality would be rare and crooked cops would be dealt with quickly. We should not be taking direction from Belmopan as to how to proceed in San Pedro.
Currently a sentence of 10 years actually means 5 years at most as inmates are credited with both day and night. That must stop now. 10 years is 10 years not 3 ½. As we have problems getting murder convictions we should pass a 3 strikes and you’re out law. Three convictions for certain classes of crime (felonies) would result in an automatic live sentence. The operators of Hattieville should be held responsible for the frequent number of escapes. It is time we fought back.