Restore Belize Reforms Police Internal Affairs Division

Jackie Willoughby

In an article entitled “Complexity” in the July 25th, 2010, issue of the Guardian the contributor wrote, “The importance of a body such as Restore Belize is to provide oversight and facilitate connections between all the component parts of a solution. Obviously, some initiatives are more useful than others but, as they say, one one full basket. The application of many small initiatives may easily be more effective than one grand project.” Though some Belizeans have prematurely dubbed the program as being ineffective, many continue to share their time and ideas to achieve the long term results desired by the community. As a result, the multifaceted approach to solving crime continues.

The earlier initiatives of Restore Belize were geared at offering residents immediate relief. Therefore, it focused on social intervention and assistance and providing educational opportunities for at risk youths. The program then added the “I Am Belize” campaign which promoted values such as national pride, courtesy, equity, fairness, inclusiveness, integrity, lifelong education, national unity/harmony, non-violence, respect, responsible citizenship, rule of law, tolerance and well-being. Now the Restore Belize program is highlighting its latest initiative, police reform.

A Police Reform Committee has been established and their first task was to reform the Internal Affairs Department. Belizeans have no confidence in the department because they feel like their concerns are never addressed. The main problem with the department is that it was headed by members of the Police Department. In other words, they were policing themselves. Jackie Willoughby is a trade unionist and member of the Police Reform Committee. She said that the Internal Affairs Department had to be reformed to restore public confidence. The Internal affairs Department is now the Independent Complaints Commission (ICC) and Professional Standards Branch. It is not just a name change but a complete structural change. The ICC is comprised of five representatives from the community- no police officers. Any individual with a complaint must get a complaint form from one of the formation branches or the Office of the Ombudsman and state their complaint. Contact information should be included for the ICC to respond. It must then be placed in an envelope, sealed and deposited in a box located at the main police branch offices or Office of the Ombudsman. An officer will then give the complainant a contact card for the ICC. Someone from the ICC should contact the complainant within 7 days to inform them of the result of the investigation into the allegations. That investigation is carried out by the Professional Standards Branch, an independent branch that does not report to the Commissioner of Police. If the complainant’s allegations are proven true then the ICC will either recommend a criminal hearing or a police tribunal. If someone does not report to the complainant in 7 days then the complainant should use the contact card given to them by the officer to request an update.

The reform of the Internal Affairs Department is only the first initiative of the committee. The committee will be improving policies and restructuring the department to improve efficiency. Willoughby said that the committee hopes to focus on specialized human resources, those with elite education and training, to capitalize on their abilities. The reform is not only to restore public confidence. It is also to restore pride in the department.

The Guardian