25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
One Police Officer for San Pedro
When I hear of the many cases of crime in San Pedro I think of my little San Pedro twenty five years ago when those crimes were alien to our peaceful and safe community. When I hear of our police force with about twenty strong officers, I think of our lovely little San Pedro 25 years ago when all that was needed was one police officer, who spent most of the day fishing because there was nothing to do at the police station simply because there was nothing wrong going on.
Indeed, today a lot of people see the police as enemy, when in the past the officer was everybody’s friend. I spent a lot of my spare time, especially on Saturdays, fishing with the police office whose name was Mr. Hope. A lot of folks remember Policeman Hope with his terrible, but funny, accent trying to speak Spanish.
Indeed 25 years ago there was only one officer stationed in San Pedro. Generally speaking, a lot of children were afraid of the policeman and for several reasons. First of all he rang the bell every night at 8 p.m. warning all school children to keep off the streets. If a child was caught on the street after the 8 o’clock curfew, the police officer had the authority to whip that child. Every morning after the 8 o’clock school bell was rung, the police officer also took a stroll around the village, and any child on the street would be taken to school. The child could be whipped by the principal or the policeman and the parents could be fined 25 cents for that offense.
The police officer also reprimanded us for such things as cursing on the streets, breaking bottles with sling shots, stealing guavas or plums from neighbors, or for intentionally fishing for sea gulls or frigates along the beach. These were some of the minor mischiefs of children in the village 25 years ago. If we teased an old man or tangled our kites on the few electric poles and lines, the officer also had a reason to reprimand or whip us. And did any father have the right to question the police officer for such action? I would say even this question is absurd. No wonder children were so well mannered and disciplined 25 years ago.
The duties of the policeman were varied and almost unlimited. He was the most powerful man in the village, perhaps even more powerful than the “alcalde” or village council chairman. He was in charge of the police station; he was a street patrolman, an education officer, an immigration officer too. He registered all births and issued death certificates. If you wanted to kill your hog or pig and sell the meat, you had to inform him to check and inspect the animal, and in that sense he was health officer as well.
The single police officer in the village patrolled the seas for illegal fishing. He was custom officer and gave permits for importation of Mexican beer, etc. He had to be informed of dances, carnival activities and the lighting of fires in the village. He was, as you can see, the sole authority in San Pedro.
Did San Pedro need more than one officer? Really and truly, no! There were only some 400 to 500 inhabitants in San Pedro, and no drugs only alcohol. There were some 75 children in school and dances were held four or five times for the year. There were no hotels or restaurants, so checking for illegal sale of undersize lobsters was not necessary.
Furthermore there were very few thieves and only occasional fights, but they were fist fights without the use of weapons. In truth San Pedro was as our first few hotels advertised us to be: “A peaceful and quaint, picturesque little fishing village in Belize”. People were used to leaving their homes unattended because nobody would walk in there to do any damage or slept with their windows wide open because nobody would break in to steal. There were no purse snatchers on the streets, so the police officer got bored and headed to the sea to do some fishing or to the piers along the beach where fishermen would load him with fish at no cost at all. So were the happy days of a single police officer in San Pedro twenty five years ago. Sounds like fun, eh? I mean being a police officer and living in San Pedro as well.
The Good Old Days When One Police Officer was Enough
Everybody likes to talk about the good old days; and why not if the subject brings pleasant memories. Even young people just recently out of school like to talk about their great days in school. In the good old days children could not stay out late at night on the streets and that does not mean that there was a curfew. Also in the good old days of San Pedro, there was only one police officer in San Pedro and there was almost perfect law and order.
What time do children stay out on the street in today's very permissive society? I don't know because I do not stay out at one or two in the morning, so you tell me. But in our good old days children were expected to be home by 7p.m. What you are about to read now will give you ample reasons to understand why this was so.
First and foremost, if a child arrived home too late or after 7p.m., he was sure to receive a good lashing and this one was from dad with a leather belt or the hammock rope. Sometimes, or I may say many times, when a child got home late, the door would be locked and the parents threatened that he/she would have to sleep outside. This sent the child into tantrums, crying and begging for forgiveness. After a long time and the shedding of many pints of tears, dad would open the door and scolded like you had never heard him before.
By now you must be thinking that children never got home late. But this is not all! In our god old days, the police officer would ring the bell at 8p.m. seven days a week, and if he caught a child on the streets, he was entitled to whip the child or take him home for the father to impose his punishment. Now you know why children were very well disciplined in the GOOD OLD DAYS of San Pedro.
One Police Officer on Patrol
In our good old days there was only one police officer in San Pedro. How many do we have today and the job still does not get done properly!? Judging from the violence we see today at homes, schools, and the streets, we seem to need another fifty of them. In our old days there was need of only one policeman because the people were so very peaceful and there was nothing much for the officer to do.
Consequently the policeman also served as customs officer, immigration, postman, registrar of births and deaths, fisheries officer and even school warden. This single police officer, in the GOOD OLD DAYS of San Pedro patrolled the streets and picked up delinquent students and took them to school or to their homes. And listen to this, the officer still had time to go fishing with his assigned motor boat. I know because as a young man, I used go fishing with P. C. Hope, P. C. Alpuche, P. C. Smith, and P. C. Fuller. These friendly police officers used their boats to patrol our waters, for health emergencies, and to go fishing and making friends. Such was life in the peaceful village of San Pedro in our GOOD OLD DAYS. No wonder I’m proud of my good old days because they also helped make me who I am today.