Social media was raging this weekend after a police directive about vehicular checkpoints was leaked out. Dated 27th December, it directs all commanders that, quote, "whenever they stop and search vehicles in which a group of persons are traveling, a full description and photograph of the vehicle is taken and documents; likewise all particulars and photographs of occupants in the vehicle gotten."

For many, that sounded sinister, and smacked of a violation of constitutional rights of privacy and freedom of movement.

Today, in Belmopan the commissioner first said that directive had an error, which was corrected, but defended enhanced surveillance at police checkpoints. He citied a number of crimes that were committed with criminals using the highways, and said it must be stopped:

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"For far too long, our highways have been used by criminals to do as they please. We cannot any longer sit and allow the status quo to continue. We have to do something to be able to ensure that we police our highways in such a way that the criminal elements will not feel as comfortable as they currently are committing their crimes on our highways. And so because of this, we saw it prudent to implement new measures at our checkpoint. Let me make it clear that the checkpoints will not be done in such a way that it will impede the free movements of our law-abiding populace. And we are cognizant of the fact that there are a number of persons who commutes to work every day and likewise we don't want to impede their movements so that they will arrive at work late in the morning time. While the Constitution do provides that every citizen is protected from arbitrary search, it does have limitations. And it says that nothing contained in this Constitution shall be deemed to be a violation of the rights if it is authorized by any law that makes reasonable provisions. And so while it gives you that right, it also specifies limitations. And so having looked at section nine and what it says in terms of any other law, I will now take you to section forty-four of the Police Act, which then gives the police the authority to search, without warrant, any person who the police have reasonable cause to believe or suspect is carrying any unlawful goods or item. We cannot arbitrarily search people, we have to ensure that there is reasonable cause to suspect that whoever will be searched is engaging in something illegal and I want to assure the law abiding citizens that their free movements might be to some extent impeded, but not too much."

Reporter
"According to the document..."

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"The fake document - I don't want to hear about that document. The one circulating is not a valid document. The mischief maker who circulated that document is fully aware that it was immediately revised."

Reporter
"Is there any truth to the directives given to commanding officers to ensure that police officers at checkpoints take pictures and descriptions of occupants inside of vehicles?"

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"In terms of taking pictures, there is no way the police can take photographs of every person in a vehicle in every vehicle that comes to a checkpoint. Let's be real, they cannot. If we see criminal elements, persons who we are aware are involved in criminal activities, have been conducted in gang membership or any other crime - we are going to photograph them and we are going to take description of their vehicles licensed plates etc., but the law abiding populist we are not going to do that to."

COMPOL Says Privacy Is An Illusion

Of course, it's unclear what exactly constitutes reasonable cause, but Commissioner Williams stressed his belief that privacy is an illusion:

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"May I say on the checkpoints, for the most part what I see police officers doing is that they are taking pictures of your driver's licensed and not you the individual. Now, the question is: is your driver's licensed private? The answer is no, because whenever you are asked to produce, you must produce it. Police take pictures of your vehicle, the question is: is your vehicle private? The answer is no. Some of the people I see complaining about privacy and picture taking - I see them post some compromising pictures of themselves on Facebook every day. Some of the pictures they post should be private, but they put it on social media. I don't know if they are aware that Facebook have a policy that whatever you post on Facebook that the company can use it in whatever way they wish and you can't do them nothing. So at the end of the day when you move around in the public a camera is always watching you either a video camera or someone with a phone, so there is no privacy in public and I've always said to my attorney friends, my colleagues at the bar, if you all believe that what the police is doing is wrong, then take us to court and let the court make a pronouncement on it. If the court says that we are wrong then we have to adjust our measures."

Williams added that the police and the BDF will be launching composite patrols on January 15th on the highways.

Channel 7