Community comes together to "Take a bite out of crime"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 19            June 10, 2004

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"Crime is everyone's problem," was the message, which echoed throughout the Citizens' Safety Committee meeting held last Thursday at the Medical University of the Americas Belize campus. It was a fairly well attended meeting and many key issues were covered. However, in the end, it was the general consensus that many fail to realize that crime in San Pedro has escalated to a very critical level. It was further agreed that now is the time to do something to combat crime in "La Isla Bonita" before it gets completely out of control. All of those attending concluded though, that crime is everyone's problem and the community, as a whole, needs to come together to combat this problem. Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., Mayor Elsa Paz, and San Pedro Police Inspector James Moreira were the principal public officials in attendance. David Childs, Manager of The Villas at Banyan Bay, conducted the meeting and first centered on the number of "brazen" incidents that have taken place over the last two months. He stated that the ability to stroll leisurely down the beach, at any time, is what attracts tourists to our beautiful destination. Childs added that if this major component is taken away and visitors no longer feel safe walking around Ambergris Caye, our tourism industry will begin to falter.

    With that in mind, several key points were addressed and suggestions made to minimize crime in San Pedro Town. The first issue was to pinpoint the locations where visitors are most vulnerable - areas that could pose a danger to tourists or locals walking the beach or the streets at night. It was stated that areas where attackers may hide (bushes and trees) could be eliminated, adequate safety lighting could be installed, and security at these locations could be increased. The second issue pointed out that a complete radio contact system between hotel security guards and the police department is absolutely necessary. It was noted that security guards from North Ambergris Caye usually have a difficult time contacting a police officer when they need to. A comment was made that resort staff should have access to a land phone line and should coordinate with the police department to determine a specific radio frequency for everyone to use to contact the police. It was suggested a "repeater" (type of antennae) be installed for clearer communications.

    Inspector Moreira confirmed that currently, only three police officers are available for each shift during the day, so it was decided that a meeting with a Ministry of Home Affairs representative be arranged to request that more police officers be transferred to the island. He added that certain officers agreed to attend neighborhood watch meetings and update members on any incidents of break-ins, assaults, attacks, or of any possible troublemakers. The Inspector announced that known troublemakers and drug dealers are now being photographed and recorded in a "mug shot" portfolio for future reference. It was suggested that meetings between the San Pedro Police Department, the Immigration Department and the Department of Human Services be arranged to coordinate a "sweep," possibly every month, to remove illegal aliens from the island.

    The next point tackled was the drastic increase in the number of new people coming to the island, without money, jobs, or support (homeless and jobless), who end up sleeping all over the island. This was an issue that created some serious discussion since, it is believed that these individuals may be responsible for dealing drugs, snatching purses, and other incidents that have been taking place. Inspector Moreira stated that he would check into the laws regarding homeless persons to find a possible solution to the problem.

    The meeting concluded with an agreement to schedule another get- together in the following weeks. An appeal goes out to local residents to please attend the next meeting with their suggestions on how to fight crime on the island. Crime is everyone's problem and local input is very important.

    The San Pedro Sun will publish the particulars of the follow-up Citizens' Safety Committee meeting as information becomes available.
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