REPORT #7 1998

Taken from the debate on the Belize Cultural List serve.

You are missing the whole point. Of course you need the police. A police force, but my contention is that you require a police that is obedient to the voters in the community in which they serve. Police have discretion. In Belize this discretion comes from an absentee colonial power in Belmopan. In the USA, this control comes from the local, city, town, or village citizens. They ELECT their police chief and then hire policeman. There are various variations on this basic fundamental of democracy. But in essence a police officer first has to be from the community in which he or she serves. This means they have a finger on the temper and pulse of the community. The elected chief, means if enough voters say they want to play hardball with the drug addicts and thieves like in Belize, then they do so with community consent. But if they find it offensive, the police chief then advises his constables to go easy on the saturday night barn dance where the teenagers are drinking beer illegally. He will then be in another part of town, or doing something else like traffic tickets. This discretion reflects the mores and desires of the voters in a town.

The incident in the port on Channel 5 and repeatedly around the country is a military organization obeying not the community standards, but the rules set by an absentee authority in Belmopan. In other words they are treating towns and villages as some monolithic whole as in Colonial Law. A town like Belize City the port and other places, needs to elect their own chief and run their own police force. The way to do this is to for the central government to figure out how much they are spending on police services under the present system in Belmopan, for Belize City, Orange Walk, etc. services in each community. Then give the City or Town Council a GRANT for that amount and tell them to hire their own police force. The national government can then offer training and such.

The town council then should have an election for a two year Police Chief and the job openings for policemen would be opened and hiring done by a qualifications job description and selected by a physical and civil service exam. Highest grades by an independent committee ( contestants unknown, covered by a NUMBER assigned for the selection process) is then hired. The police chief runs for election each two years, but the constables are permanent. They can add to the budget, pay less, or shift hours and shifts were the Town Council gets feedback from the voters in the town on where and when and how they went the police to function. There is a separation of powers thus by an elected chief and the elected town council. The police thus have it in their means to go after crooked town councilors as criminals as well if necessary. Generally, from my observations there are regular meetings between the town council who might be getting citizen complaints and requests and also the police chief, all of whom want to serve their town citizen voters, in order to get elected again and keep their job.

If the citizens of the port want the police, their OWN police to play hardball with gangs, they will let the elected officials know. If they want more equitable law applications they will know that too. Also a Town Council can review the pay scales and spread the GRANT money around and maybe hire more police for troublesome shift times, resources can be more easily shifted on an hours notice with local control. Volunteers can work along with the town police when needed, what is called deputies ( non paid ), additional money can be pulled from say the Parks Department budget to put on extra police when they have a troublesome hotspot and so on.

The fact of the matter is, the police in Belize are regarded as both the enemy and the helper, depending on circumstances. To build a law abiding community you need locals running and being the police, not somebody from another part of the country with no vested interest, whose allegiance is to a shifting body politic in the capital of Belmopan. The pervasive corruption that goes with a centralized government convinces the ordinary citizen of Belize that there is no longer any law, moral or civil, criminal or protective. The opinion is that force is the law and that force emanates from a controlling cabinet via the controlling winning political party on a national scale, who are above the law. Law is perceived to be two tiered in Belize. The disenfranchised and those politically connected. The police system in Belize was based on a corrupt monarchy system and we are not talking about individual honest policemen trying to do their job properly, but the framework and structure within this work is done.

There are colleges galore that study the philosophy of law and order and how it should be applied. The present structure of Belize police force is solely about power, and centralized control, not serving the people.

You have to fundamentally philosophize about who should control the police? A central absentee government, or should the police respond to the control of the citizens whom they are supposed to serve?

I hope only to open a debate on the philosophy of law and order and change the climate and present system which historically around the world is non functional by many, many ex-British Colonial police force examples.

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