I have just returned from Caye Caulker. I've been there every winter for the past ten years and love the place. The police presence has greatly improved over the years, and the Village Council is now very active and involved in making it a better place.
The problem I am addressing is one that has been going on for several years but seems worse lately. It involves a lack of support for the Caye Caulker Police by judges in Belize City.
While I was there this time, four criminals from Belize City stole a boat and came out to Caye Caulker. While there, they "rolled" a tourist and stole the woman's money and passport. The Caye Caulker Police and the entire community were alerted and within hours, the four were arrested and the boat and a gun were confiscated. The Police found the woman's belongings on one of the criminals and returned them to her.
We were all very proud of our Police Department in catching these criminals, especially when we learned that several of the criminals were wanted for other crimes in Belize City.
When the issue came to court in Belize City a week later, the four men were released back on the Street by the Judge, and the Judge threatened to arrest the Caye Caulker Police for giving the woman back her belongings because with her passport, she was able to leave Belize and could not be a witness.
However, there were other witnesses to the crime. The police testified that the woman's belongings were in the possession of the criminals when they arrested them. The criminals clearly had stolen a boat and were in possession of an illegal firearm. Yet, they were all released.
I heard this morning that another boat load of criminals were found walking the streets of Caye Caulker, making trouble yesterday. The police have detained them, but as usual, they will probably receive no support from the Belize City judges.
All the local police can do is hassle criminals from Belize City, hoping that the notion that Caye Caulker is wide open to criminals will not become worse.
I experienced a similar event two months ago when a criminal from Belize City stole the steering mechanism from our boat. When he was confronted by a friend on Caye Caulker, the criminal attacked him.
My friend defended himself and hit the attacker. When the altercation was brought before the Belize City Judge, my friend was put in jail and given a $2,000 fine. The criminal was released, despite the fact that the he had a long record of crime. My friend went to jail despite the fact that he is a very respected, long-time citizen of the island who had never been in any trouble.
I have talked to many folks on Caye Caulker about this situation. The police there are very frustrated. Some people say that the Judges in Belize City are a part of the criminal network, while others say it is just a matter that the Belize justice system is too lenient and requires extreme proof before anyone is ever convicted of a crime.
Whatever the reason, the word is out to criminals in Belize City that they can do anything they want on Caye Caulker and not worry about prosecution.
This is very unfortunate. Caye Caulker has come to depend on tourism. With these crimes going unpunished, the situation will become increasingly worse and cause people to avoid the Island.
Caye Caulker is a small community. The people there immediately recognize outsiders. Everyone is alert to potential criminals who might make trouble. The local Police are very good, but without the support of the judges in Belize City, Caye Caulker will no longer be a safe place for tourists or residents.