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April 27
08:34 2019

By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

It appears that one of the primary strands of the Police’s crime fighting strategy is to establish check points all across Belize City. Although not a new strategy it seems to have taken on greater prominence under the leadership of the new Commissioner of Police.

To be clear, check points are an important tool in the arsenal of any police department but an over reliance on this tool can be counterproductive. Among other things, check points can lead to traffic congestion, loss of productivity across the wider economy and perhaps most importantly, the diminution of support for the Police by the drivers who feel harassed and inconvenienced by the check points.

There are essentially two types of check points [1] fixed or permanent check points and [2] snap check points or temporary check points; each having its own utility. The Police seem to have a preference for the former and so there are fixed check points all across the Belize City [~11 or so].

Every driver who lives in Belize City, or frequents Belize City, knows where these fixed check points are or where the snap check points are usually established, so if they wish to avoid them they can. Whenever you pull up to a line of traffic one immediately assumes it’s another check point so if one wishes to evade such, one can simply divert or turn around. So then, it is usually law abiding citizens who remain in the long lines and suffer the inconvenience; and for what?

The Police have yet to show the Belizean people the statistics that demonstrate that these check points are indeed effective. These check points may be more about optics than about results. It would be interesting to know how many vehicles pass through each of these check points each day and how many arrests are made at these check points and for what offences.

You would be shocked to know that the Police cannot produce such data. That in and of itself is an indicator of an unclear sense of purpose. What really is the purpose of these check points and how effective are they when, despite the burden on law abiding citizens, we see an increasing state of public insecurity?

The fashion in which the Police use check points is in effect an offering of a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. The criminal elements have clearly adapted to the anti-crime efforts of law enforcement but law enforcement on the other hand seems to be gripped by inertia. They have been slow to adapt to the new and emerging modus operandi of the criminal elements and so they remain stuck with 19th century solutions to crime.

The Police check points have thus been reduced to nothing more than traffic stops. The Police Officers primarily check for vehicle licenses and registrations and for driver’s licenses. In 2019 there is no need to stop vehicles in order to determine if they are duly licensed and registered. Technology can easily do that and with far greater effectiveness since, unlike the check points, every vehicle can be electronically screened for valid licenses. License plate recognition technology as well as embedded RFID [radio frequency identification] have all but made check points irrelevant, save of course during a manhunt.

An emerging concern has to be that increasingly Officers at these check points have begun to harvest information from occupants of vehicles in gross contravention of the Belize Constitution. The destination and business of law abiding citizens is of no concern to the Police. Belize is not a Police state nor is it a dictatorship and this kind of tactic by the Police should not be allowed to persist. Every law abiding citizen supports the Police, including the author of this column, but every citizen also has a duty to uphold the Constitution and prevent the erosion of the fundamental rights contained therein.
If right thinking citizens do not draw the line at these check points [which are supposedly designed to arrest crime] the Constitution will do little to prevent such intrusions from becoming a routine part of Belizean life! In fact, one can argue that they have already become so.

The Commissioner last week indicated that the current staffing level of the Police Department is not sufficient to meet its mandate and that he was going to seek approval for a recruit intake this year. Perhaps the Commissioner should first look at the deployment of the Department’s current personnel with a view to optimization. On every shift there are about 22 officers assigned to check points. These officers could be better deployed on foot and mobile patrols to suppress the gang violence that has come to plaque Belize City. They can be better deployed to prevent the burglary of the homes of hardworking law abiding Belizeans. They can be better deployed to conduct sound investigative work so as to improve conviction rates.

There is undoubtedly an opportunity cost for the deployment of Police Officers at these check points. A single check point near the Haulover Bridge was calculated to cost the Belizean economy ~$15.5 million per year. Imagine the economic cost for 11 such permanent check points in Belize City.

Earlier this month commuters were perplexed when they encountered not one but two check points within a half mile of each other on both sides of the Haulover Bridge: one by the Ladyville Police and one by the City Police. The induced traffic jam spanned miles, leading to frustration and anger on the part of commuters. Despite the Officers being advised of the other check point none of the teams seem prepared to collapse their check point and move on to other Police business.

Law enforcement is a difficult and thankless job so the intent here is not to disrespect our Police; they do for us a great service. However there are better ways of containing crime and there are better ways of utilizing their already limited resources. Institutional inertia can stall innovation leading to the application of the same ineffective strategies. It is this inertia that the Police Department must overcome if it is to improve its crime fighting performance. Away with these check points please!

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