Area Representative threatens SP police officer

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 1            January 10, 2002

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Only days after a meeting to unite efforts and improve relations between the community and the police, Minister of State and Area Representative for Belize Rural South Patty Arceo has been reported to have threatened a police officer.

    According to a report filed by Detective Constable #104 Orlando Cruz the following events occurred during the incident which happened on December 22nd, 2001. At about 1:15 a.m. that same day DC Cruz along with three other constables were on routine mobile patrol and entered the Barefoot Iguana Nightclub to check things out. Upon exiting the location, DC Cruz noticed that a male person (supposedly Minister Arceo's driver) was standing near the police vehicle. The male person accosted them and questioned what one of the constables had in his cup, inquiring whether the officers were drinking on the job. DC Cruz told the other constable to have the gentleman sample his drink, as he was certain it was cranberry juice.

    The officers then left and continued their patrol in town. Upon their arrival at the police station at approximately 1:36 a.m., DC Cruz and his team observed that Area Representative Arceo was on the phone (with Inspector Linden Flowers). It was then that she shoved the phone to his mouth telling him to speak to his supervisor. The report stated that Ms. Arceo then raised the phone as if to hit DC Cruz and the phone became disconnected. Reportedly, she then accused him of assaulting persons "close" to her. Moving closer to him, she pointed in his face stating, "No matter how long it takes I will get somebody to beat you up." She allegedly continued to move towards him, but the other officers moved between them frustrating her efforts to reach the officer. According to the report, following this the Area Representative then stated "she was surprised that the fellow officers wanted to protect this mada f**** who likes to harass people. I am a f***ing minister and wish to speak to my constable. This is not over," she continued, "you will remember me this Christmas." According to the report filed, DC Cruz stated he smelled the strong aroma of alcohol on her breath. Ms. Arceo reportedly continued the verbal assault for some time before leaving the station. DC Cruz then called Inspector Flowers to alert him of the situation.

    DC Cruz was relieved of his duties in San Pedro at midday that same day and transferred to Belmopan City. According to Inspector Linden Flowers the matter has been reported to police headquarters and the Internal Affairs Department. 


Above the Law?

   The verbal threats that were reportedly made to a detective of the San Pedro Police Department on December 22nd, 2001 were an inappropriate response and a bad example that we hope the residents of the island and country do not follow. The reported verbal assault by Area Representative Patty Arceo was said to be in retaliation to Detective Cruz allegedly using unwarranted force against a member of the Area Representative's family one week before. If the allegations are true, the type of behavior exhibited by this police officer should not be condoned and the officer should have charges brought against him as prescribed by law. Also, the inappropriate actions of the Area Representative in trying to take the law into her own hands and the use of her political power for revenge is a black eye on the government and an embarrassment to the citizens of Belize and should also be dealt with accordingly.

    Being a Minister of State in the Government of Belize, Ms. Arceo should have exercised better judgment. Also, as a Minister of State in government she has all the resources at her disposal to make certain her complaint is handled in a timely fashion. It is ironic that on December 18th, 2001 a meeting, which she attended, was held with the residents of Ambergris Caye and the police (see San Pedro Sun, volume 11 number 50) to discuss ways in which to alleviate the escalating crime on Ambergris Caye and the proper procedure for reporting police officers who "get out of hand". G. Michael Reid, police press officer stated, to all present at the meeting, that all allegations of wrongdoing on the side of the police would definitely be investigated and exposed. Why then would a government minister, who should be setting an example for the community, decide to turn this situation into a personal vendetta? This does nothing more than send a message from the Area Representative to the residents of the community that they have no other realistic recourse when they feel their rights have been violated by the police. It also shows contempt for the police by the Area Representative and a lack of respect for the proper procedures and laws that govern our country.

    It has been stated that this incident of abuse against a police officer by a Minister of State will be handled at a "cabinet level" and that it would not be "prudent" for the police officer to pursue this matter. Because of our previous experience with matters such as these at the San Pedro Sun I have little faith that the "good ol' boy group" in Belmopan will discipline one of their own. When an editor of this newspaper was publicly threatened by the Area Representative with "Don't f**k with me or you will suffer the consequences" a year and a half ago for printing factual articles in this newspaper on the San Mateo subdivision, two letters were submitted reporting this attack against freedom of the press to the Prime Minister. Neither letter received a reply. A letter was sent to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a worldwide organization that works for the defense and protection of the freedom of the press.They, in turn, contacted the Belize ambassador in Washington D.C. and the PM to inform them that threats to the freedom of press in a democratic society would not be tolerated and that the situation in Belize is, and will be, monitored.

    If the police truly want to gain the respect of the residents of the community, this situation presents an excellent starting point. The alleged abuse by the officer should be investigated and dealt with accordingly. Also, charges of threatening words against a police officer should be filed against the Area Representative. This could be the first step in showing the community that no one is above the law; not police officers or government officials. That all people are treated equally under the law, regardless of their political position or station. The PM also needs to involve himself in this matter to demonstrate that "accountability" is not just a government catch-phrase and that the Minister's Code of Ethics is not just a worthless piece of paper signed to pacify the population. We all realize that if anyone else in the community threatened a police officer they would be charged. Allowing government officials to randomly set policy or bully our police force for personal reasons or to ignore the law is a prelude to disaster for the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country and is a slap in the face to democracy. It is time for our elected officials to stop behaving as if they are "Above the Law!"
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