Deputy Prime Minister Holds Press Conference... BCB, Police Discussed

The Honorable Dean Barrow, Deputy Prime Minister, on Wednesday, 17th December, in Belize City at the Radisson Hotel held a press conference for the press and the community to address the issues of the Belize Police Force (BPF) revised command policy and a final report synopsis of the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize (BCB).

Minister Barrow started the conference by welcoming the delegathe stationing of a police officer, since the village has not had a police officer for quite some time. He also thanked Minister Barrow for his help in trying to raise the funds to build proper housing for the stationed police officer. Minister Barrow thanked the village for their support. He said that there was no funding available for the housing of the officer and the villagers volunteered with temporary housing.

Jim McFadzean of Channel 7 posed two questions to the Commissioner of Police, Ornell Brooks. First, that the previous Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zuniga, had stated that during his term he had to address undermining by officers, and secondly he asked about the improvement of intelligence concerning big drug leaders and exposing of these big drug dealers.

The Commissioner said, "First off I have had the support of the public and my department. I will not review Commissioner Zuniga's statement, but I will say that I and the other officers have given our support to Commissioner Zuniga. The statistics would not be so if we didn't."

Minister Barrow added, "I can't say what the condition was before but as you know we executed a new plan of collective rule. The Minister, Superintendent and other officials meet every Monday morning, as I understand from the officers. In the past the Minister would talk to the P.S. (Permanent Secretary) and he would talk to the Commissioner and the Commissioner would then talk to the police force. There was no collective force present. Now every Monday we meet under my chairmanship. There is no unilateral running of the force. No one man show, no sole-man-ship, no unilateral running."

Paula Ack of the BCB asked, "When will the restructuring start, how soon, and how long will it last? And also what will happen to the two officers from Cayo who were suspended for their suspected brutality?"

The Minister addressed the first question and said that terms of reference were being drawn up concerning the key staff of the BCB. Before the restructuring can happen a new board must be appointed. By the first month of the new year to somewhere in mid February the new board will be formed.

The Commissioner responded to the second question and said that as reported in the newspapers they (the police officers) were arrested and charged and a hearing was set and adjourned to the 11th of January. Minister Barrow added that they were "extremely serious about dealing with the matter."

Simeon Sampson, the president of the Human Rights Commission, asked if there were any plans to strengthen the police force training and especially in connection with brutality. Minister Barrow commented that Mr. Matu has been appointed to address such issues in the training of the new recruits.

The Permanent Secretary, Carlos Perdomo, addressed the question more specifically and said, "Starting from last year, there are 71 new recruits, 2 are women, the curriculum was revised. There are courses on human dignity, the Constitution and on human rights. It goes beyond that, the recruits do more practical assignments. They go on the streets and are debriefed about their experiences, what they see, what they learned. The issue under the new administration will be to put more emphasis on training. 90% of the recruits are high school graduates and about a dozen are sixth form graduates. Establishment of a new plan in service and training in the police force is in progress. We are working very hard on it. As long as I am P.S., although the Permanent Secretary is not as permanent as the word may imply, training will be my priority."

The Commissioner said that in addition, a code of ethics has been embraced to improve the relationship between the police and the community.

A news editor of the BCB asked about Police Press Relations and commented that the press doesn't get information on the same day of the occurrence, but rather the day after; and that at times the press is stone-walled. It was asked if any provision would be made to improve police public relations in the future.

The Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Garnett, said that the Commissioner has given permission to departments to cooperate with the press.

The BCB news editor replied that most of the time they are turned around several times and told to contact Belmopan, and that the problem seems to be with the Eastern Division.

The Commissioner commented that as long as the information needed does not jeopardize the investigation then the department should give the needed information on current police matters.

Stuart Krohn of Channel 5 asked for clarification of certain points that were included in a synopsis on the BCB that was handed out at the conference, such as comments regarding privately owned radio stations being a destabilizing influence on the BCB and that the BCB had not always acted in the broader national interest. Mr. Krohn asked, "In times of crisis the public must look elsewhere for proper information?"

Minister Barrow replied, "I never said anything to draw such a statement. I can't stop you going on a frolic of your own, but I will not get into that with you now, we can do that on our own time."

Brian Mossiah of the BCB questioned whether or not it is practical to believe that the BCB can be financially viable by 1997. He commented on the programming plans and the assessment of the Committee assigned to assess the BCB and to advise the Government about the BCB's future direction.

Mrs. Henry replied that the corporation had a great deal of help in the decisions concerning the BCB. They obtained expert advice from knowledgeable and experienced persons such as Mr. Rafiq Khan, UNESCO Consultant, who has seen many other Caribbean corporations and knows what makes a corporation succeed and what makes it fail. She said that the Committee trusted his advice and assistance. Mrs. Henry concluded that the Committee never made any decision on its own.

Rene Mendez of Love FM, asked if the Government meant to assist the BCB financially and if the BCB was also going to compete with the other stations for their dollars.

The Minister answered "Yes" and that the Government will ensure the capital budget for the BCB will be extended. The government will deal in a business like manner with the corporation and other stations - they will pay for air time.

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