Minister of National Security Remarks – Prime Minister Forum on November 1st, 2012 Print E-mail
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Thursday, 08 November 2012 00:00

Hon. John SaldivarPrime Minister, Members of the Cabinet, Members of the business community, CEOs, other distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen:

The recent spike in crime and violence, especially in Belize City, hits at the core of our efforts to create a safe and secure environment where our citizens and visitors can live in peace and security.  Let me assure you though, that despite these occasional spikes, which have the effect of eroding any appearance of progress in our fight against crime, the Ministry of National Security and the Police Department have been employing, and will continue to employ, new and innovative strategies to vanquish what is undoubtedly the greatest national challenge in our post-Independence history.

My task, as the Minister, is to move the Ministry of National Security forward and ensure that we strengthen its Departments to allow them to deal with the various threats to national security and safety in an efficient and effective manner.  While we are doing that, we have to deal with the challenges of the day- to-day policing realities as it relates to crime and violence.

We, at the Ministry of National Security, have a plan, which, we have been implementing for the last three months and which we are confident will work well to take us out of these difficult times and achieve the desired results.

Before I unveil the details of this plan to which I refer, I ask your indulgence in allowing me to muse briefly on how we may have arrived at such a critical state of affairs, not to assign blame but to understand the nature of what confronts us, and the complexity and hence, a long-term nature of the solution.  

Our crime problem has been a long time in the making perhaps as far back as the sixties and seventies when economic and political domestic policy, combined with the lure of first-world living, began an exodus of fathers and mothers to North America leaving many children behind in the care of grandmothers, aunts, uncles and even older siblings.  The barrel-and-box mentality conditioned many of our then youths to rely on and anxiously await packages from the North.  The impact of this on school attendance, self motivation and industry cannot be measured.  With the relaxing of immigration policy in the eighties, many of these youths were able to join their parents only to be later deported back to their homeland but, not before learning and adopting hardcore first-world criminal behavior. 

This reentry began in the late eighties and early nineties coinciding with our first national experience of institutional corruption.  A recent World Bank study has shown, beyond a doubt, that the leading impediment to growth and the number one cause of poverty in developing countries is corruption.  Poverty, when added to a behavioral tendency to crime, provided a lethal combination.  The first-world prescriptions of the middle to late nineties, which were suppose to lead to economic progress only exacerbated poverty by placing close to a thousand families in the unemployment pool and caused an unintended rise in cost of living form which households took some time to recover.

A second and continuing wave of deportees into the native population and new signs of a social breakdown within the naturalized population has our law enforcement officers scrambling to maintain control over a society on the brink of social chaos.  Tough decisions must be made; tough decisions are being made.

When this Government was sworn in for a second term in office in March of this year, the Gang Truce was at an advanced state of deterioration, and, consequently, there was a corresponding increased in major crimes. The months of March to May saw a spike in the major crimes, especially in the Belize, Cayo and Corozal Districts.  It was noted that some 709 major crimes were recorded for this period 2012; this is 119 or 17% more than what was recorded for the same period in 2011. 

Something had to be done.  As a result, we began an active engagement exercise with friendly Governments.  Dialogue with the British, Canadian, Mexican and the US Governments, and others has resulted in major capacity building and general strengthening of our law enforcement agencies to tackle to crime crisis that confronts us.  

On the local front, some meaningful interventions were initiated by a number of community stakeholders. The People Coalitions countrywide were and continue to be, sterling examples of the community/police relation required in our fight against crime.  The many Government entities which coordinated the various programs for at-risk youth, all contributed and continue to contribute to the overall effort.

These efforts have proven to work as we have seen a gradual decrease in the accumulated major crimes from June to September of this year. Our records show a total of 901 major crimes for 2012 and 1070 major crimes when compared for the same period for 2011. This is 69 or 6.4% less the 2011 figures to date. It is important to note that all this success, limited as it may seem, came at a time when the Gang Truce was tenuous at best and more latterly, the various work programs have been streamlined and are in the process of winding down.

Over the past few weeks and definitely for the past few days, we are once again experiencing one of those spikes in crime which, as I mentioned before, has the effect of eroding any appearance of even limited success in our fight against crime.  This has again caused us to step back and revisit our approach. Since yesterday, the security forces including the BDF have been deployed into crime-ridden areas and are, as we speak, aggressively targeting and disrupting criminals and their activities.  There is now visible presence in these areas and we ask again for your cooperation and understanding during the security forces operations.

The Police Commissioner will be invoking today, for the first time I believe since the law was passed, the declaration of several crime infested areas, of Belize City as Crime-Ridden areas which will give his police and BDF the power to search any and all houses in the area without the need for a warrant.  This declaration will also allow the police and the BDF to restrict movement in and out of these areas.  These areas will be cordoned off and every person entering and exiting the area will be stopped and searched and a systematic house-to-house, house-by-house search of these areas will be done.

The Police and BDF have for several weeks now been conducting special operations in the city on the weekends.  These operations in our opinion have been successful in stemming the regular weekend spate that use to full the Monday night newscasts.  However, the criminals have adapted and shifted their activities to weekdays.  We, therefore, are very quickly adapting and as of yesterday, the weekend special operations of the police and BDF have now become an everyday, seven-days-a-week operation.  Patrols which used to be stepped up on weekends are now stepped up on a daily basis.  Six ATVs with police and BDF are now deployed on a daily basis.  Special foot patrols are now in place on a daily basis.  Vehicle check points are once again being strategically placed across the city to intercept and disrupt criminals.  Special intelligence officers, who are familiar with these criminals, are being placed at these check points with a list of names and pictures of persons of interest.  Every person in whom we have an interest will be detained and held for questioning as often and as long as it takes for the police to conduct proper investigations into the many unsolved crimes that are under investigation.

As of today, the police are under instructions to begin to crack down on all those who commit petty offences and quality of life crimes.  Discipline begins with the small things and it is perhaps because of neglect of small crimes that we now have a crisis with big crimes.

As of today, the Director of Public Prosecution is being asked to petition the Court for the imposition of stiffer conditions for bail and even the denial of bail for repeat offenders.  I am making a public call to magistrates and judges to use the discretion afforded them by law to impose stiffer penalties on persistent criminals, impose stiffer conditions for bail, and to even begin denying bail to these habitual criminals.

With regards to habitual criminals, especially juvenile habitual criminals, I am happy to report that the Ministry of National Security has received the go-ahead from the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to establish a Corrective Training Facility where we intend to house convicted habitual juvenile criminals for a period of corrective training and discipline.  More on this proposal will be released shortly however, I can indicate from the outset that the facility will be located in the Pine Ridge Area; it will be administered by Belize Defense Force personnel, and schedule of crimes which, once a conviction is secured, will attract sentencing to this facility will include misdemeanors and such petty crimes that will be easily prosecuted for a conviction.        
Let me close by making a quick statement on the way forward outside of the immediate actions being taken to arrest the current spike.  The Ministry of National Security acknowledges that the three weakest areas in the Police Department continue to be Intelligence gathering, Investigations and Prosecution.  The major crimes and their frequent spikes, like the one we are currently experiencing, has drawn much of the available resources and attention to the everyday policing, patrolling, and crime prevention efforts.  And while such is necessary, it has done so at the expense of building a modern and more effective Police infrastructure.  The operations I just described will cost in excess of $100,000 on a weekly basis.

In Prosecution, for example, core reasons for the weakness includes: a lack of training, routinely transferring the more skilled prosecutors from the department once they are promoted from Sergeants, inadequate supervision and review of case files prior to hearing, inadequate preparation and follow-up with witnesses, resources such as transportation, computers, etc. to aid in the efficient delivery of their service. 

It is clear that if we do not treat Prosecution as a career department and allow for skilled prosecutors at all ranks to be retained in the Department, it will continue to lose the benefit of its specially trained personnel. 

It is with this in mind that Cabinet recently approved the hiring of an Attorney to head the prosecution branch and current police prosecutors will be asked to decide if they want to stay permanently in the prosecution field or return to regular police duties.  We are determined to fix the Police Prosecution Branch.

Going hand in hand with prosecution is investigation.  In an era where the public has lost faith in the justice system, one in which witnesses frequently recant their statements due to intimidation, or far worse – are murdered, more reliance must be placed intelligent investigations, and the tools must be secured to enable such. 

Presently the Investigations Department has at their disposal a Scenes Of Crime (SOC)department, a Crime Information Management Database (CIMS), a Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS),  Cell Phone and CIM card Diagnostic Equipment and Computer Forensics Tools, a small network of expensive cameras, and most recently, courtesy of the Canadians, the most advanced ballistic forensic equipment available (IBIS).   A DNA lab is soon to be added to this list.  To gain the best from all these equipment and tools, the Forensic Lab and the Scenes of Crime Unit and forensic pathology will be amalgamated and the management of the new department will be strengthened. 

The Government of India has agreed to provide us with technical support in the form of an Advisor to Ministry of National Security. This individual will be with us shortly.

We will continue to improve the physical working conditions and provide the necessary equipment to enable officers to respond in a timely fashion to emergencies. Upgrade the terms and conditions of service for the Police Department.

Finally, I want to stress the need for full community participation in the fight against crime.
• People Coalition
• Placencia Initiative
• Citizen on Patrol  Program??
I want to leave you with the assurance that, despite this temporary setback in our plans, with your continued support, we will overcome the many challenges that the criminal elements are creating for us.

I thank you for your attention and continued support.