Neighborhood Watch Presidents discuss island’s well-being

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

On, Monday November 17th, presidents from the various Neighborhood Watch committees on Ambergris Caye held a meeting to discuss pressing issues in San Pedro. Also present at the meeting was Deputy Officer in Charge of Police, Inspector Henry Jemmott, town foreman Freddie Gonzalez, Deputy Mayor Gabriel Nuñez, Council Wally Nuñez and San Pedro Human Development Officer Adan Kay. Two of the main issued discussed in the meeting was the level of crime on the island and the urgent need for boat manifests on public transportation. Officiating the meeting was Steve Spiro, who expressed the need to work together to improve the well-being of the island for residents and tourists alike.45-Neighborhood-Watch
According to Inspector Jemmott, while crime is under control, more resources are still needed to secure the entire island. “The San Pedro Police Department has the addition of a new vehicle which will be used by the Criminal Investigation Branch and the Special Operation Branch. What we are lacking the most is personnel. With the season coming in we will need to have more patrols and at the moment we have limited officers. We have placed a request for more officers and we are hoping to get new police soon,” said Inspector Jemmott.
Several attendees expressed concern at the increased use of fireworks (cohetes) during this season by children. The use of fireworks is not only dangerous, but also illegal in the country of Belize. “These fireworks that the residents play around with are illegal, but most importantly can be dangerous. We have had several incidents in the past where children and even adults get injured while handling these items. In addition, the sound produced by these fireworks are very misleading because they have a similar sound to gun shots. People need to understand that there is a reason why these fireworks are illegal, it is for their own safety,” said Inspector Jemmott. Police will be conducting operations to remove these illegal fireworks off the street. Anyone caught handling or selling them can be fined.
Gonzalez, who works along with Crime Stoppers Belize and the Belize Coast Guard, stated that an initiative has been set into place to reduce drug related crime in Northern Ambergris. Currently plans are being made to construct a Coast Guard base in the Rocky Point Area. “We have secured a grant from the Government of Belize to construct a base on Northern Ambergris Caye. This base will serve to intercept drug activity on the area. With the training I have recently received, I will be assisting the Coast Guard in implementing tactics and strategies to stop drug operations. If we stop the activity at its core then the island will be safer,” said Gonzalez. Discussions are being held to secure land for the base. Once the land is identified, construction will commence immediately.
Another issue discussed in the meeting was child protection and the need for a curfew. Child related crimes are escalating on the island. According to Kay, children are being neglected, which is resulting in these problems. While the Human Development Department in San Pedro is working to solve many of these issues, the department lacks resources to counteract all the problem. Kay stated that one of the main concerns on the island is that many children are not attending school and the lack of space in school is adding to the problem. “On a daily basis, we get reports of children out of school selling products on the streets or simply causing trouble. But that is not the main issue that we are faced with; the main problem is that we don’t have enough space in the schools to place the children. Yes we can go arrest the parents, but the problem will not be solved because there isn’t any space in the schools to put the children. Many parents that we have approached tell us that they don’t send their children to school because all the schools are full and they can’t afford the private schools. To solve this issue, we need a government primary school where we can send the children,” said Kay. Kay indicated that several petitions have been sent to the Ministry of Education to construct a government school on the island.
In addition, plans are being made to set a curfew for San Pedro. “Too many children are out late at night. This is not safe. We need to implement a curfew to ensure children are not out on the street but at home,” said Kay. Inspector Jemmott added that while the curfew is a good idea, authorities have to be strict on implementing it. “The only way the curfew will work is if we have people patrolling the streets and actually taking these children into custody. The problem will not be solved with a curfew alone, we need to charge the parents for allowing their children to be out at night. We cannot put all the blame on the child for being out late at night, because it is the parent’s responsibility. So when we pick up a child we will go to his/her home and give the parent a warning. If we find their child out for a second instance, then that parent will be charged because they clearly are not complying with the rules and regulations of the curfew,” said Inspector Jemmott. Parents are urged to be more mindful of their children’s whereabouts; negligence is not an excuse.
The final item discussed in the meeting was the need to implement a boat manifest. Currently the three water taxis are not recording the names or numbers of passengers travelling in their vessels. A manifest is a document listing the cargo, passengers, and crew of a vessel. This document can be used to identify passengers in case of accidents and to have accountability for travelers. While the companies have been asked to comply with a manifest, none are actually doing it. “I don’t see why these boat companies cannot have a manifest. Maya Island Air, Tropic Air and San Pedro Water Jets all have a manifest for all their runs. This is a safety measure that needs to be taken. With the growing number of people traveling to the island, there needs to be some sort of document to record the entries and exits. Since they are not working with us, then we will start pressuring them to comply with the manifest,” said Deputy Mayor Nuñez. An ultimatum will be given to the companies in the coming months. “We want tourism to grow, thus we need all travel agents to promote safety and accountability. If something were to happen in any of the vessels’ voyages, there is no means to say who was on that boat. The companies can simply ask customers to present an identification card when buying tickets. This would give a sense of who is traveling with them and would solve various liability issues,” said Inspector Jemmott. The boat manifest has been in discussion for the past year, but has not yet been realized.
On a final note, the San Pedro Police Department would like to ask residents for kind donations towards the department’s Christmas program for the less fortunate. Person are asked to donate clothes, non-perishable food products, toys and other gift items. The items will be used to create Christmas hampers to be given to the less fortunate families of Ambergris Caye. Donations can be dropped off at the San Pedro Police Station on Pescador Drive or contact Inspector Jemmott at 206-2022 or 600-6423 for pick-ups.

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