Murder by numbers

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 15            April 10, 2008

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DNA, blood trails, fingerprints; these are all necessary in the pursuit of catching criminals. Given the advancement of forensic analysis, Crime Scene Investigators know exactly what to look for when stepping into a crime scene. These clues link culprits to the murder and using evidence, officers are able to solve murders. However, this is easier said than done. As of press time, Tuesday, April 8th, 2008, the murder toll in Belize has reached 31 with 18 cases remaining unsolved.

    In 2007, the Belize Police Department issued a release on the number of serious crimes reported within the country of Belize and showed a decline of approximately 17% from 2006. However, recent murder reports are sending shock waves all through the nation as the growing trend of violence takes over neighborhoods and communities. The figures compared to last year’s show that 2008 is on a steady pace for a record year of murders. So far, Belize City alone has recorded murders 19 and 20 with the recent killings of Ryan Young and Floyd McFadzean over the weekend. In February alone, the murder incidences rose to a whopping 13 victims, eight of which are still unsolved. In March, the country showed eleven fatalities, and police managed to make arrests on six cases.

    These deadly incidents are occurring all over the country with predominance being in Belize City. However, San Pedro residents have seen their share of murder with two cases reported already in 2008. These two are yet to be solved. The first incident occurred on February 13th,and cost Alvaro Galvez his life. Galvez, who was found in a pool of blood in his apartment by his employer, was seen with multiple gun shot wounds all over his body. This case did not see much light as the team could not substantiate concrete evidence to make an arrest. Fifteen expended shells were found at the crime scene but with no other clues to the culprit, and no witness reports, the case has gone cold.

    On Monday, February 23rd Rafael Canti’s body was found a short distance from his front door with one single stab wound to the heart. Leads were followed in the Canti murder as well. Whether it was a domestic dispute or something else that may have cost him his life, officers are still unable to state. In both incidents, suspects were questioned but no one was officially arrested and charged. According to Criminal Investigation Branch Officer in San Pedro Town Paulino Reyes, these cases remain under investigation. “We have received several follow up reports since the incident and are looking into those leads. We are reviewing every angle and are working on solving each case. We do call for the public’s assistance. If anyone knows anything, please call us,” he stated.

    The Belize Police Department has its hands full with the increase in the murder rate. Assistant Commissioner of Police and Officer in Charge of Eastern Division, San Pedro falls under his command, Allen Whylie said that a large part of the problem is due to the fact that there is too much firepower on the streets. Because of this proliferation of illegal weapons, police have put a temporary ban on the issuance of new gun licenses. They call on license holders to be more vigilant of their firearms since, according to the Commissioner, a lot of the weapons that end up on the street are stolen from careless license holders.

    In another attempt to curb the increase of crime, the Belize Police Department has launched Operation Cycle Breaker. It started on April 3rd and had teams of over 50 men, both officers and Belize Defense Force soldiers deployed across key areas searching for drugs, firearms, ammunition, wanted persons and suspects. Operation Cycle Breaker caught much heat when on April 4th, officers broke down the door to Mrs. Carolyn Westby’s home. At around 4:30 that evening, a heavily armed detachment of about 20 police officers, dressed in camouflage attire and armed with M-16 rifles, and accompanied by a K-9 dog, stormed onto the premises of the well-respected community activist and retired teacher, claiming that they were looking for drugs and weapons. Although many complain that officers are abusing their power when conducting these searches, Assistant Commissioner of Police Crispin Jeffries states that the police do have the authority to conduct such searches without a warrant on the claim that they are searching for drugs and weapons.

    On Thursday, March 27th, the Police Department held its all officers conference in Belmopan with the theme – Reducing Crime, the Socio Economic Factor. Commissioner Gerald Westby, told the media the purpose of these conferences, “We want people to understand that this crime is not only a thing for the police, it is a multidimensional problem and we need a multi-sectoral approach to address it. The police have been doing a tremendously good job in interdiction, we have been arresting for the murders, we have a seventy percent detention rate for last year alone and the other crimes are dropping. So certainly the gun related violence in Belize must be addressed and the gun court is a good, needy start and should be, I hope, implemented very soon so that we can have these guys that go out there and also the scientific side of it needs to continue to be developed. We need to introduce the integrated ballistics information system where we can contract and get data on all the firearms across the country, so that we can have people have more confidence when they go to court that they will receive more convictions. So that witness will be more amenable to go to court because they know that scientific evidence will be there to compliment them. The DNA and these things will not happen overnight but we need to continue to work towards it.”

    In San Pedro, although our murder rate does not compare to what is going on in the city, the increase in robberies and other crimes is evident. These, stated Officer in Charge Dennis Arnold, can be minimized with the public’s assistance. As of late, there are five active neighborhood watches on the island, “Join one,” he exclaims. And although the motive for these killings seem to stem around revenge, rage, gang wars or are drug related, one thing is for sure, unless we get personnel that is properly trained to deal with substantiating evidence, perpetrators will forever walk free and remain to walk free. “By joining a neighborhood watch everyone can keep a vigilant eye, all we need is a call, no names need to be given, just call us and tell us what you see, that is all,” he explains.

    As far as assisting in the ongoing investigations, if you have any new leads or information that could assist the police in capturing their culprit/s, do not hesitate to call 922-TIPS.

Since 2000, Belize has seen 645 people lost to murder.

These deadly incidents are occurring all over the country with predominance being in Belize City.
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