Home Affairs meets with Neighborhood Watch

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 49            December 19, 2002

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At last week's Neighborhood Watch meeting, Mr. Allan Usher, Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs addressed several issues cropping up in San Pedro Town. Those attending included: Superintendent Rudolph Orio, Belize Police Force; Mr. Joseph Sampson of the National Neighborhood Watch; P.C. Charles Gonzalez, San Pedro Police Force;Mr. Steve Schulte of the San Pedro Citizen's Safety Committee; Dr. Wil Lala, President of the South Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch; Nurse Natalie Palen, President of the North Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch; Bernabe Badillo, President of the Boca del Rio Neighborhood Watch; Mr. Roland Augustine of Journey's End Resort; Gene Lopez, LAG Security; Magdalena Trejo; Dimas Guerrero, KBH Security, and Allison Campbell who recorded the following minutes of the meeting.

    Mr. Usher reported that funding is in place for the new San Pedro Police Station. The new station will also serve as a community shelter and must be built to exacting standards. A cement roof with tie downs for Belize Defense Force tents is one of the innovations included in the design. There will also be a police booth on the beach with approximately a mile of visibility in all directions.

    Mr. Usher hopes that a resident magistrate will be appointed in the near future, while magistrate visits should soon be increased to three times a week. The certainty of swift apprehension, conviction and punishment is believed to be a deterrent to most types of criminal activity.

    The Ministry of Home Affairs is facilitating the extradition of convicted foreigners to reduce Belize's prison population, currently at about 950, thus promoting better prison conditions and allowing for improvements in the rehabilitation programs. The reduced population also separates younger offenders from older criminals. Additional requirements of vocational training, drug testing and counseling are planned for the parole program.

    A new emphasis on forensic sciences - fingerprinting, ballistics, DNA and drug analysis, crime scene preservation - to supplement eyewitness accounts in the arrest and prosecution of suspects is being achieved with the use of new computers, software programs, training in Belize and abroad with police departments from Singapore, Japan, Jamaica,Britain and the US. In one instance, a software program replaces a $90,000 US microscope for matching fired bullets, a reason to test fire and file the results of every gun prior to licensing.

    Superintendent Orio reported on the formation of Neighborhood and Block Watches in Corozal, Orange Walk, Punta Gorda and Caye Caulker. In addition to private sector security training, Special Constable training and advanced courses offered to Non-Commissioned members of the Belize Police Force, communities are being urged to examine the level of emergency services available in their immediate area and provide local solutions when crime, fire, medical or weather crises are likely to overwhelm the existing resources. Justices of the Peace are also being encouraged to meet at least monthly to encourage an increased amount of community leadership.

    Mr. Sampson emphasized the role of the community in making safer work and home environments. He stated that positive communication between the community and its police department is a critical factor. A crisis, or a string of crimes, can generate a lot of community interest and support, which then fades when there are no pressing issues.

    Mr. Sampson announced his participation in leadership training at the Neighborhood Council System in Los Angeles, California, USA. This system promotes participation in Neighborhood Leadership courses enabling communities to respond intelligently to a variety of criminal, medical, fire or weather threats to their safety. During the next three weeks he is offering a three-hour seminar designed to enhance the quality of community interaction to members of Neighborhood Watch and other interested civic groups on Ambergris Caye.

    Other topics introduced at the meeting included: 1) Lack of a Truancy Officer in San Pedro and the high percentage of children not attending classes. 2) Traffic. 3) Street and beach vendors, some of whom have been observed harassing residents and visitors, and/or offering to sell them illegal substances. 4) Police telling suspects the identity of the person who reported them to the police. In several cases this has resulted in unhappy confrontations between all parties. Recommendations were made to contact the Citizen's Safety Committee, 614-9093, if this is the case, or make the complaint anonymously. Complaints about officers or policies can be forwarded to the Commissioner of Police Carmen Zetina or Ombudsman Paul Rodriguez for consideration by the Internal Affairs Division.

    Greatly improved police response to both the south and north sides of the island were noted and applauded.

    Dr. Wil Lala told The San Pedro Sun that many noticeable changes have already taken place in the past month or so. Private sector and business contributions have provided beach patrols by LAG security officers from Mata Rocks to SunBreeze resorts during the daytime and off-duty police officers are patrolling during the late afternoon and early evening hours. He stated that Mr. Ramon Nuñez solicited contributions for additional security for the town core and immediate vicinity during the late evening/early morning hours.

    Congratulations and thumbs up to everyone involved in the efforts to reduce the criminal activity on the island!

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