2 weeks ago, police released the official crime statistics for 2017, which showed 142 total murders, three fewer than the all time high set in 2012.
Belize City had the most murders, and most of them were related to gang violence. So, the Police Department and the Home Affairs Ministry have been under sustained pressure to come up with quick fix solutions for a generational problem whose roots run deep into the swamp of social decay and structural poverty.
Police had been hinting for months that a major legislative shift in the way they fight crime was on the way, and today, their new National Crime Fighting Strategy was unveiled by Commissioner Allen Whylie at a press conference featuring Police Minister of State Elodio Aragon. Daniel Ortiz has that story:
Allen Whylie - Commissioner of Police
"The purpose for us being here today is for the Belize Police Department to launch its National Crime Fighting Strategy 2018-2020."
Daniel Ortiz reporting
It's the Police Department's latest get tough on crime initiative. It has an extensive list of areas that the top brass wants to focus on to be more effective as the guardians of law and order."
"Our Priorities are reduction of murders and gang violence in Belize City and across the country; prevention, interdiction and successful prosecution of criminals, and the restoration of public confidence."
"Our priorities will be achieved through the following, to reduce gun related crime, target and dismantle criminal gangs through legislative reforms, through the strengthening of the Professional Standards Branch; and the implementation of a systematic video surveillance program for Belize City."
But the main target is gangs, and to combat them, police and government technocrats have crafted strategies and a raft of new anti-gang legislation:
"Goal number 1, to reduce gun related crime, and target and dismantle criminal gangs, and there's a number of things the Belize Police Department intends to do under that goal."
"The first that we will do is the Department will establish an anti-gang task force that will be charged for the investigation of specific gang related crime, with a view to have these cases brought before the court. The Belize Police Department will aggressively investigate and prosecute suspected gang leaders and their financiers for financial and other crimes, using all available laws at its disposal. The Belize Police Department will intensify operations aimed at disarming criminals, intensify spot checks and vehicular checkpoints, traffic control, and stop and searches in particular sections/zones. Also, road policing will be done to curtail the movement of criminals, to seriously disrupt criminal activities, and to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of crime and violence."
But, one of the biggest changes in this new strategy is a new focus on what the law will deem to be sympathizers of criminal gangs. The families of these reputed gang members may be at risk of being criminal charges.
"The enactment of an anti gang legislation. The Anti-gang provisions, as contained in the crime control and criminal justice act, chapter 102 of the substantive laws of Belize, revised edition 2011, will be repealed and be replaced with a new anti-gang act. This new act, will provide law enforcement officers with the legislative authority to effectively target the gang and their criminal activities. It will also create a number of offenses aimed at financiers, as well as the supporters of those criminal gangs, along with stiffer penalties. It will also allow for the identity of witnesses in gang-related trials to be protected. Specifically, the enactment of this new act will create specific offenses for gang membership and gang activities, create specific offenses for gang members who are found with firearms or bullet proof vests, create specific offenses for persons who harbors gang members, create specific offenses for persons who lend support to any gang. It will also increase the police powers to suppress gang activities. It will provide for the issuing of injunctions by a court, restricting the movements of gang members. It will provide for the creation of a gang watch list, and it will also prohibit the recruitment of persons to joining a gang."
And for those street feuds that escalate with rivals targeting each other in that never ending cycle of revenge.
"The Belize Police Department will focus on mediation, intervention, and interdiction efforts to address retaliation and revenge killings."
But, to achieve the cleaning up of the streets, the police department is aware that they have to clean house
"Professional Standards Branch will be responsible for conducting sting operations and cleansing programs to identify and remove corrupt police officers. The Belize Police Department will coordinate and investigate with the Financial Intelligence Unit to target police officers suspected of profiting on corrupt practices and unjust enrichment. A public education campaign, regarding police corruption will be conducted to educate citizens on their rights and responsibilities. Specialized training for members of the Professional Standards Branch, and other members of the Department will also be sought."
And while the cops can't be everywhere, to prevent every crime, they want to be able to keep an eye on strategic locations. That's where their ongoing surveillance camera system will fill the gap
"Implement a systematic video surveillance program for Belize City. Surveillance cameras are excellent tools to document and prosecute criminals. The Belize Police Department will continue to implement a CCTV program that will see the installation of cameras in strategic locations across Belize City."
The top police brass acknowledged that this strategy will not have all the answers. So, they will turn to you for suggestions.
"The Belize Police Department will involve the community in identifying law enforcement priorities, and strategies for the prevention of crime and violence."
But, for right now, the police bosses are going for transparency in the implementation of this strategy.
George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of Home Affairs
"The way it was thought about over 2 years ago, the plan was for us not just to have a strategy that just the department knows of, for the entire nation to be aware of and then to hold the ministry and the department accountable for the things that they plan to achieve."
Hon. Elodio Aragon Jr. - Minister State/Home Affairs
"I think it is something that is needed. In this country we all know the problem in terms of gang and gun related violence. We all understand that there is a need for legislated reform. We all know that the department needs to have a stronger professional standards branch in dealing with police misconduct and police corruption. We all know that we need to incorporate technology in our strategic plan as a police department."
"I am confident that this plan will work. It will be implemented and we at the headquarters will drive to ensure that the commanders do what they are supposed to do and we want you to hold us responsible to ensure it is done and I am certain you will do that."
The National Crime Fighting Strategy is packed with changes which we think you would want to take a look at. It will be posted on the Police Department's website, and we'll also post it on our website.