Commentary By Wellington C. Ramos
When I joined the Belize Police Force in 1973 there was no insurance for police officers who got sick, disabled or died while on duty. If they got sick they would go to the hospital and they would receive free medical care and be given sick days with a date to return to work. If their injuries were severe, the sick days would be extended continuously until they got better and then returned to work. When a police officer was permanently disabled and could not return to work, the Commissioner of Police, along with the government of Belize, would agree on a retirement monetary settlement, which was not substantial. In the event of death, the police officer received a funeral with full honours and a meager compensation to his or her next of kin and nothing for the surviving spouse or children.
On November 19, 1974, a friend and squad brother of mine PC 431 Francis Bermudez, better known as “Govna”, died in Belize City at the age of 19 years. He was one of the most dedicated police officers I worked with at the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) in Belize City. He was given a full police honours funeral in Dangriga Town but his father was only given a check for about $2,000 after the funeral by the then Commissioner of Police Esmund Willoughby.
During those days the Belize Police Force did not have a union to engage in collective bargaining on their behalf. They were represented by the Police Association, which is powerless. The police officers vote to elect the officers of this association but whenever they get too vocal they are promoted to the rank of inspector or transferred out of Belize City. Officers who are promoted to the rank of Inspector cannot represent enlisted police officers because he or she automatically becomes a member of the Public Service Commission. When they are transferred out of Belize City, they can no longer communicate with the majority of police officers and they end up resigning their positions with the Police Association.
Police officers cannot go on a strike and, if they try to complain about the way they are being treated, the senior ranking officers can bring them on charges for neglect of duty, willfully disobeying a lawful command, prejudice to the conduct of good order or discipline or one of the other generic charges in the Police Ordinance at the time, which was Chapter 59.
The police officers could be given a better deal than this to attract better quality police officers in the Belize Police Force and to boost their moral. The Social Security Agency in Belize is always boasting about having a surplus. Since this is the case, we should be able to deduct a small percentage from each police officer’s salary towards a life insurance package that is non-refundable to finance this project.
Police officers receive two weeks of vacation every year and three months of leave every four years. Vacations and sick leave are not the problems most police officers complain about but the death benefits for the spouse and children remain a major concern to them.
When a police officer becomes disabled on duty a certain percentage of his salary could be paid to him or her for the rest of his or her life or his or her social security can kick in to his social security benefits. Also, a fixed amount additionally for each child until they become 21 years of age. When a police officer dies, he or she will be given a funeral with full police honours despite the length of time since they left the police force. If a police officer dies on duty, there would be a fixed insurance amount that is substantial, like $200,000 or more to be paid to his or her next of kin plus a monthly stipend for each child until they become 21 years. of age. Police officers in Belize do not die often on duty so the risk to insurance companies is low.
The Police Association should start demanding this as a benefit that they desperately need for all current officers of the Belize Police Force. I understand that the benefits for police officers have not been significantly upgraded since I left the Belize Police Force in 1978. Caribbean News Now