San Pedro Police Cracking Down on Crime

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 39            November 11, 2004

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Belize Police Assistant Commissioner Maureen Leslie speaks passionately about the dangers of crime to the San Pedro R. C. Students at the Lions Den.

The San Pedro Police Department is making changes on Ambergris Caye to address the growing crime situation. Its first big change seems to be the reinforcement of the curfew on "La Isla Bonita." In order to shed light on regulations pertaining to the curfew situation, Assistant Commissioner of Police/Commissioner of Eastern Belize Division, Maureen Leslie along with Inspector in charge of Commanding Community Policing Eastern Division, Diane Garcia, Inspector in charge of Service/Protection Department, Bartholomew Jones, and newly appointed Sergeant Irma Anderson, spent Tuesday and Wednesday last week visiting with youth, parents, business leaders and members of the community.
Students from the San Pedro R. C. School listen intently as the new curfew is explained to them by police officials from Belize City.

    Assistant Commissioner Leslie said that crimes committed by youth, clearing "hot spots," and making sure her officers act "professionally" are among her top priorities. A major emphasis of her visit was to clarify the newly implemented curfew.

    Mrs. Leslie and her staff spent much of Wednesday at the Lions Den where local school children attentively listened to Mrs. Leslie's explanation on the curfew being enforced on Ambergris Caye. The curfew implemented is between the hours of 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. People under the age of 17 must be home during this time, or if they will be out in public, they should be accompanied by an adult. She stressed constantly on the fact that the curfew is intended to reduce crimes by young people and to protect children from "bad people." Assistant Commissioner Leslie told the youth, "If you commit crimes or are considered 'uncontrollable,' you may be sent to the Hattieville Penitentiary for Youth in Belize City until you turn 18." She continued, "You can be as young as nine years old and go to Hattieville." Mrs. Leslie told the children that if they are caught violating the curfew, "Not only will you be in trouble, but so will your parents."

    Maureen Leslie then opened the floor for a question and answer session about the newly implemented curfew. However, many of the questions from the kids were regarding the disturbing behavior of police officers on the island. Several questions were posed to the panel, including: Why can officers drink and drive? How come they whistle at me? Why do they drive so fast?

    While the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the curfew, the children appeared more interested in why policeman have been able to misbehave. Mrs. Leslie was not pleased. "If you see any police officer acting inappropriately, I want you to call me," she told the students. She explained to those attending that when asked, policemen must provide their names and that they are not allowed to drink while on duty, or while wearing their uniforms. "It is essential that these officers are good role models for the youth," she mentioned.

    After a long day speaking with elementary school children, Mrs. Leslie took time to address parents. Her first concern was attendance. A disappointing group of less than 15 parents were present at the meeting. "In order for the curfew to work, parents need to get involved! It takes everyone's help for this to be successful," she stated.

    The first issue Assistant Commissioner Leslie tackled was agreement; making sure all parents were aware of the curfew hours and that all agreed. All parents in attendance said they did.

    The second point tackled was whether implementing a curfew was legal on the island. Mrs. Leslie explained that Belize City has a curfew amendment and that a child who is found out on the street during curfew hours is taken home. The parent is liable to a fine of up to $2,000. She went on to explain that there is no a curfew amendment on Ambergris Caye but that the parent can be charged for child neglect and/or abandonment. If the curfew implemented does not prove to be successful and children are still roaming the streets, Mrs. Leslie suggested traveling to Belmopan and requesting a curfew amendment for the island. "I do not want to do this," stated Mrs. Leslie. "This will mean that I, as a Commissioner, and you, as a parent, have failed in trying to keep our children off the streets. This does not need to happen."

    Inspector Diane Garcia gave a few ideas, which will help children have activities that may keep them busy and out of trouble and that will possibly be implemented on San Pedro Town. The first was the Youth Cadet Corps, which is designed to have a positive influence on children from the age of eight to 14. It enables them to be entertained with positive tasks and through the year, fun and exciting camping trips are taken. Inspector Garcia mentioned that after a child disobeys the curfew twice, then they may be sent to boot camp in the city where they are taught to be exemplary citizens.

    Assistant Commissioner Leslie told those present that her telephone lines are always open and that anyone having and concerns, questions or complaints, may call her anytime. She also mentioned that if the individual wished to remain anonymous, that they may call 922, the crime stoppers hotline, which is answered in Miami, Florida, USA.

    Mrs. Maureen Leslie concluded by saying that she would try to visit Ambergris Caye as many times as possible and that if it is needed, she would try to transfer more police officers to the island until the crime situation has been minimized.
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