Police Commissioner meets with the community

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 9            March 1, 2007

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Mayor Elsa Paz, Commissioner Westby, Assistant Commissioner Crispin Jeffries and Commander-in-Chief Humberto Pott.

When he came into position as Commissioner of Police, Gerald Westby stated that he would not only work hard at trying to lessen the crime in Belize, but also committed himself to being closer to the communities that he works for. He has done just that. Commissioner Gerald Westby is the first Commissioner of Police to hold town meetings.

    After a brief visit a couple weeks ago, Commissioner Westby returned to the island to hold his first meeting with San Pedro’s general public. With him he brought Assistant Commissioner of Police, Officer-in-Charge of Belize’s Eastern Division (which includes San Pedro) Crispin Jeffries, and Assistant Superintendent, soon-to-be Commander-in-Charge of San Pedro Town Humberto Pott, and Police Press Officer G. Michael Reid. A spike in crime, concerns by both local authorities, as well as concerned citizens prompted the visit. However, as packed as the Lions Den should have been, it wasn’t.

    The meeting got underway with Mayor Elsa Paz welcoming those in attendance. “Thank you for being present to address the crime situation in San Pedro,” she commented to the gentlemen at the head table.

    Commissioner Westby was second on the podium. “I came here a few weeks ago, it seems that when you start something you can’t stop. […] I have recognized how important it is for a community that their issues be addressed. I serve the community first and foremost. When I came in to post, I made it my commitment to hold town meetings. Myself, along with Assistant Commissioner Jeffries, we keep a close eye on San Pedro. We recognize how important the tourism is for Belize. 18% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) comes from tourism. […] Each country must have its own brand, what we have is a multicultural society. It is our diverse culture, we have sunshine, eco-tourism, archaeology – that all is what makes Belize unique. […] Everyone comes here for an experience. When tourists get here they are on vacation, they let their guard down, they are relaxed. […] We as police need to make Belize safe for our tourists but also make it safe for our residents. […] Look at the statistics, they are not all that bad. We need to look beyond stats. […] When Assistant Superintendent Sabal first came to the island, it was bad. I must say that he has done a great job. Along with the help from Sergeant Myles and Cowo, San Pedro is doing better. Sabal did a great job, but we need to keep rotating our officers so they develop and are well-rounded. Your new Commander-in-Charge will be Assistant Superintendent Humberto Pott. Although we had promised that he would be here on April 1st, it is not going to be possible. He will be attending a month long FBI training.” Commissioner Westby stated that much has been done to lessen the crime situation on the island including sending officers to work “under cover” in drug busts. “They come covertly to compliment and supplement the resources that you have here.” As far as getting new officers, he stated, “We are sending three new tourism police officers to the island. And, I make the commitment that when new officers have received their training at the Police Academy, San Pedro will be one of the first places to receive new officers. […] Finally, we must continue to work together. I have heard some Special Constables have stayed with this program and I give kudos to them. I ask you to work in trying to get the Citizen on Patrol (COP) program a try. Only by the community working hand in hand with the department can crime be minimized. […] Although we don’t have many officers country wide, I must say that it is the way that the resources are utilized. The pack is only as good as its leader. Please give Mr. Pott your support; I will make sure that he does a great job.”

    Assistant Commissioner Jeffries was next on the podium. “I command 1/3 of the police resource. So, when Commissioner Westby said that new officers were to be sent to San Pedro, it was said to you as a promise, it was said to me as an instruction.” Assistant Commissioner Jeffries went on to comment of the various inadequacies in his office, items on his agenda that are being worked upon, including complacency on behalf of some officers. “That is why we rotate officers. The Commissioner and myself do condone this or any other bad behavior from our officers. San Pedro has 26 officers, they can not service the island properly. The community can help, get involved in auxiliary type programs. […] Security is everybody’s business. There is no way that 26 officers can provide the coverage that is needed.” [...] How do we police the tourism industry? If we are selling a product, visitor and citizen safety are of utmost importance.

    A brief question and answer session followed. A part time resident and business owner commented on “undesirables” being allowed on the island and not being deported. Commissioner Westby said that he will speak with the Department of Immigration on how better to address the issue of people from other countries traveling to the island and causing trouble. As far as citizen Barbara Anderson’s concern relating to police harassment and searches being conducted at her home, Commissioner Westby stated that he stands fully behind his officers. “If you aren’t doing anything to raise suspicion, then searches would not be conducted. If my officers believe that something dirty is going on then they have full authority to do searches. Only then will we be able to catch the undesirables.” On the issue of the growth of the police department’s needs, Commissioner Westby stated that not only is the Department building for police, but it holds other offices in it as well. Police families live there and the barracks aren’t suitable for families. “The north end needs more policing. You need a sub-station there. If you build it, we can provide the manpower to tend to the needs of the north.” Harriette Fisher, citizen, stated, “I have to commend Officer McCullock and Sergeant Myles who make it a point to attend our neighborhood watch meetings. The police visibility has increased in the north end and because of that crime has lessened. Also, I don’t think that we have had a growth in crime. It might seem that way because now more crimes are being reported than before. People need to start making reports.”

    Assistant Superintendent Pott took to the microphone and assured his commitment to the community. “The Community Policing Strategy for 2007 is to engage in community policing which some have been implemented while the others will be implemented in the couple of months.” Assistant Superintendent Pott was welcomed with a warm round of applause.

    All officers and senior officers present at the meeting reiterated their commitment to help the community of San Pedro and once again commented to those present, “Crime is not a police problem, it a community problem, so get involved!”

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