Belize Murders Down Slightly, Amidst Regional Spike

Every year in the first week of January, we report on the country’s murder rate. It’s subject of nervous worry since, we imagine every Belizean dreads when we’re right there in the list of the top ten most murderous countries on earth. Well, there were plenty of murders this year, 119 of them but many more in other countries, so, early indications are that Belize will not make it unto that top ten. Of course, there’s nothing to celebrate in 119 murders – that’s dismal, but it is four less than last year’s 123. It also brings down Belize’s murder rate to 32, which is lower than our neighbors, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Those three countries are called the Northern Triangle and they comprise what is widely recognized as the most dangerous area on earth. The Triangle – just those three countries – reported a combined 17,422 murders in 2015. It was worst in El Salvador which reported 6,657 homicides, for a murder rate of 104 per hundred thousand citizens, which is a 67% increase from last year. The murder rate in Honduras went down from 68 to 57, while Guatemala went down only slightly. The murder rate also went up sharply in Jamaica where there were 1,192 slayings, 20% more than the previous year.

So, in that context, the final numbers on murder and major crime in general are encouraging for the Belize Police Department because 2015 started with sharp increase in murders. Later in the year, the Department’s multi-layered intervention is believed to have curbed it the last 6 months. Here’s what the Police High Command had to say about the overall major crime profile for the year 2015:

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"Our statistics for the year 2015 shows a grand total of 2216 major crimes were recorded in the country of Belize as compared to 2494 in the year 2014. This reflects a decrease 278 cases of major incidents or 11.1% in 2015. Theft was the highest major crime reported in the country of Belize for the year 2015. A decrease of 96 cases of thefts or 8.5% was noted in 2015 when compared with the previous year 2014. Burglary was the second highest reported major crime country wide for the year 2015. This is a decrease of 93 cases of burglary or 11.1% as of noted in 2015 when compared to the previous year. Records show that 214 cases of robberies were reported countrywide for the year under review. A decrease was noted of 77 robberies or 26.5% in 2015 when compared to the year 2014. Murders, 119 murders were recorded in 2015 contributing to 5.4% of the total major crimes recorded. A decrease of 4 murders or 3.3% was noted in 2015 in comparison to the previous year. The month with the highest incidents of major crimes was August 2015 with a total of 221 cases reported. Whilst in 2014 the highest was recorded in the month of May with a total of 229 major crimes."

Some Areas Shone In Statistics

It’s also been a while since the Police Minister’s monthly awards made the news. These are given to the commanders of police jurisdictions who have the lowest number of crimes for that period. Well, the commanders of the different police regions were recognized today at the briefing, and the Commissioner explained that there were some encouraging decreases in crime during different parts of the year in the different jurisdictions. Here are the figures:

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"The southern regional command area had a total of 296 major crimes recorded compared to 328 recorded in 2014. This reflects a decrease of 32 major crimes recorded or 9.8% decrease in 2015 on the southern regional command area. The northern regional command area had a total of 200 major crimes recorded in 2015 compared to 327 in 2014. This shows a decrease of 127 major crimes or 38.8% in 2015. The northern regional command area had the greatest decrease in major crimes recorded in 2015. The western regional command area had a total of 440 major crimes recorded in 2015 compared to 573 cases in 2014. This reflects a decrease of 133 major crimes or 23.2% in 2015. The eastern division rural command had a total of 152 major crimes recorded in 2015 compared to 172 in 2014. This shows a decrease of 20 major crimes or 11.6% in 2015. The eastern division northern command which included San Pedro and Caye Caulker had a total of 604 major crimes recorded in 2015 compared to 547 recorded in 2014. This shows an increase of 57 major crimes or 10.4% in 2015. Eastern division southern command had a total of 524 major crimes recorded in 2015 compared 547 in 2014. This shows a decrease of 23 major crimes or 4.2% in 2015."

City Major Crime Down Also

So, what about Belize City? Well, in the beginning of the 2015, there was a worrying spike in murders, especially, gang related killings, but as soon as Supercop Chester Williams was given command of the Belize City Southside, he hit to ground running with his community policing focused on conflict mediation between rival gangs.

The Commissioner told us today that the Community Policing strategy has been embraced as best as could have been hoped for:

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"You could recall in the second half of 2015, first of July to be exact; we create 3 new divisions out of Belize district; eastern division rural which comprise the Hattieville Ladyville area. Eastern division south which was the Southside of the Belize City and eastern division north which is the North side of Belize City as well as San Pedro and Caulker. That allowed the divisional commanders our very senior officers, ACP/Senior Super Intendent to be able to more manage the smaller area and to be more flexible and adaptable to issues of crime. In the second half we were able to see a significant slowing down of crimes, especially in Belize City, Southside in particular in terms of the cases of murder."

"The community policing approach was in effect, the intervention efforts were in effect, Mr. Williams took it to another level. He was more out there and was more willing to meet with each and every person whenever an incident occurs in an effort to intervene. It was also being done by the previous commander but it was not highlighted by the media as such, that now they realise the benefit of the media. So I'm saying the North side is also having the media present whenever they are out doing some of these meet and greet. Obviously we police with the consent of the people and so the key to our success is being on the ground to meet the various residences of the city as well as the nation to listen to their concerns and see how we're able to assist and respond. Not everything we're able to solve but the things that are within our ability to solve we do try to solve them and solve them quickly."

But, might the answer to violent crime in the City’s Southside not have been staring them in the face for quite some time now? Viewers may have noticed that in the recent years the police department began focusing significant resources in paramilitary style policing – the kind practiced by the GSU. We asked the Commissioner if there will be a continued shift in focus from that style of policing, given the measurable results that community policing has been yielding. Here’s what he had to say to that:

Daniel Ortiz

"Was that a wrong-headed approach would you say, looking back on the successes of community policing even just the few months?"

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"I won't say it's the wrong approach. When I became commissioner, I emphasize that my approach would be community oriented policing. We've been having a number of training sessions across the country with the officers. The intent is to have any officer see himself a community oriented police officer, that does not stop that officer from being the tough cop and arresting person but you do not have to always be that way."

"There is nothing wrong with communicating because people want to hear from the police and we want to hear from the people because we police with their consent."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News

"Will the police be perhaps revisiting the traditional roll of the GSU?"

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"I don't understand in terms of the traditional roll of ther GSU, the GSU is the anti-gang unit for the department and we do know that we are challenge by a number of gangs in particularly Belize City. As your good colleague says there is always the need for the capability and paramilitary approach when the soft side of policing does not work."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News

"But the soft side as you've said, the soft side is working also with those gangs in Belize City."

Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police

"Yes but you cannot close off an option, you've got to keep all options on the table."

Channel 7