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MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND

MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND
September 14
17:38 2018
By: Lloyd Jones, -

“But no matter what, the requirements of modern day policing in Belize will continue to be overwhelming. Government is therefore ceaselessly engaged in a process of better equipping our security forces. And in this connection I am pleased to announce that the funding to set up our long-awaited DNA lab has now been secured. This is thanks to the US and CARSI, the regional security program. Through our local resources, Government is financing the refurbishment of the physical space at the present National Forensic Science Service Building, as this is where the new DNA equipment will be operationalized. GOB is also paying for the foreign expert that will train our local personnel in the new science. And draft legislation has already been prepared to provide for the acceptance of DNA evidence by our courts of law. To complete this forensic picture, a new, fully outfitted, top-of-the line Scenes of Crime vehicle will be in country next month. It will have the refrigeration capacity, the kits and all the other tools to do onsite preliminary specimen analysis. Welcome to CSI Belize!”

– PM Barrow, Independence Day Speech, September 21, 2011.

Over the weekend of September 1st to 2nd six young black men were murdered in less than 30 hours, sending the City into a state of panic. The security forces were scrambling, trying to contain the blood bath and so, on September 4th, purportedly to prevent an outright war,acting PM Faber’s Cabinet declared a state of public emergency in two areas of the City. The proclamation itself has attracted both applause and condemnation in equal measure, it seems.

There is great irony in the declarations of September 4thbecause it was under the Barrow administration that street gangs attained their greatest prominence. Mr. Barrow began to treat street gangs with kid gloves and by doing so he gave them an inflated sense of importance. The gangs came to the belief that the status of Belize’s public safety depended on them and so, when their battles erupted and they could not find their rivals, they turned on innocent Belizeans. The gangs became fortified in their twisted belief because notwithstanding the fact that the law makes it a crime to be a member of a gang, Mr. Barrow once flew in from a regional event to hold court with them.

There have been persistent rumours that Mr. Barrow had an arrangement with these gangs to “hold it down” and that those arrangements reportedly involved the tax dollars of the Belizean people. If these rumours are true Mr. Barrow would have committed a grave error because if you run out of money then what? Could it be that Mr. Barrow was blinded by his short term political goals and in his hubris he struck a deal with the devil?

It was only in March of this year that Mr. Barrow was forced to hold a press conference in an attempt to calm the Belizean people who had become unnerved by the spate of cold blooded gang related murders in the old capital.But press conferences don’t solve crimes and the evidence suggests that the Barrow administration is as impotent on crime as it is in dealing with the unfounded Guatemalan claim. This of course is no cause for celebration. If anything it should alarm us all.

If you look at the facts, it becomes glaringly obviousthat the Barrow administration’s singular approach to crime is “more boots on the ground.”I, like many people, hold the view that the Barrow administration cannot be serious about crime when it has, as a matter of defacto policy, failed to address crime in the manner that it ought to be addressed: in a multi-agency, multi-pronged and bi-partisan manner. The “more boots on the ground” approach has not worked and so Belize finds itself having to declare a state of public emergency in its largest metropolis.

Under the Barrow administration the Police Department has more than doubled in size, from 1073 strong in March of 2008 to ~2,345 in September of 2018. Today, although the Police dwarfsthe BDF, thenew crime fighting plan diverts even more of the BDF’s meagre resources to policing Belize City, leaving the Chiquibul and the entire western and southern borders exposed and vulnerable.

At Mr. Barrow’s press conference in March nobody asked him about the exit strategy for the BDF. The last time the BDF was deployed to “assist” the Police it took 20 years for them to return to their barracks.And by the time the BDF had returned to their barracks in April of 2014 Belize’s murder rate had spiked to over 100 murders per year. Twenty years of “more boots on the ground” yieldedno measureable impact on the murder rate, in fact the evidence suggests otherwise.

No matter the rhetoric, one can tell a great deal about a government’s priorities simply by analysing the manner in which they allocate resources. The doubling of the size of the Police since 2008 saysthat in the view of Mr. Barrow and his Cabinet, the single greatest threat to the survival of the nation state of Belize is the very people of Belize. The people of Belize it appears are an even bigger threatthan Guatemala and so since 2008,Mr. Barrow has placed internal security ahead of national defence.

The “more boots on the ground” strategy of the Barrow administration has not worked and neither can it work in isolation. Today, Belize has 6 police officers for every 1,000 of population; more than the New York Police Department (NYPD)and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) which boast 5 officersand 2 officers per 1,000 of population respectively. Though the BPD has “more boots on the ground” than both the NYPD and the LAPD both of those police departments preside over a significantly lower murder rate than Belize.Why is this?

If we look at the crime fighting strategy of the NYPD or LAPD, one of the pillars upon which such strategies are built is forensic science. They have come to rely on science rather than eyewitness testimony alone because they understand that until people know that there is a high chance that they will be convicted and punished, they will not be deterred. In his 2011 Independence Dayspeecha prosing Mr. Barrowdeclared “Welcome to CSI Belize!” Seven years later the people of Belize are still waiting. Hundreds of millions of Petrocaribe dollars spent and yet not even a shadow of a credible forensic lab. And so murderers continue to walk free even as law abiding citizens cower in their homes. In 2018 “welcome to CSI Belize” has morphed into “Welcome to preventative detention!”

As the number of murders continues to grow in Belize and as the conviction rate remains dismal, more and more people are relying on street justice because they have no confidence that the State can deliver justice. It was street justice that gunmen were after on the night of July 23rd when Baby Atana was murdered. It was street justice that triggered the murderous spree after the fall of Shakedi Baizar and it was the portending street justice that frightened the Barrow administration September 4th.The cold truth is that if the Barrow administration does not give us justice at Court House Wharf then the streets will!No state of emergency can fix that!

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