Editorial: A Simple Answer to Complicated Problem

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Last week I found myself celebrating the U.S. Independence Day in the country’s capital, Washington DC. Traditionally residents and visitors to the area gather at The National Mall and Memorial Park to commemorate the occasion and witness unprecedented fireworks. For many, this annual 4th of July event is the epitome of US patriotism and an estimated 1 million people gather within the two mile circumference of The Mall.

For someone who does not like big cities or large crowds and worries about personal safety, attending a massive celebration like this was somewhat intimidating. After traveling aboard packed subways and walking block after block of streets crowded tight with people, strollers, bicycles and vendors, it eventually occurred to me that I was at one of the safest places on Earth. How can it be, that one million people can gather to celebrate AND behave at the same time? I could not help but marvel at the sense of safety and comfort that emanated on the streets and how…for a lack of better word, polite it all was.

A good friend of mine likes to debate the benefits of law and order with me. He is a huge advocate of THE LAW and the need for it to not only be respected but enforced. Is that what I witnessed that night? With the proper combination of police officers on sight diligently doing their job, along with the right attitude and respect from the masses, is it possible to live and play in harmony? There was no sense of repression or fear, and it seemed folks were happy to comply with the reasonable rules of conduct while enjoying the camaraderie of a cooperative group.

I am not real keen on making comparisons between countries but I could not help but think about how unruly the Independence Day Parade in Belize City has grown over the years. From hand grenades to stabbings and brawls, many people are avoiding the opportunity to celebrate Belizean Independence with their countrymen for fear of their safety. Instead of taking the “this is how it should be done” stance I prefer to look at how and why things do or do not work and what we can learn from them.

There were two things I noticed at the 4th of July gathering that were key to keeping an orderly crowd. The first was a lack of alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, I was darn thirsty and with the temperature well over 100 degrees I was seriously looking for a Belikin tent. There were tons of refreshment vendors, but all alcohol sales were limited to bars and restaurants in the area, there was absolutely no public drinking. Needless to say a sober crowd tends to be better behaved. The other obvious factor was the presence of police officers on bicycles. Wearing comfortable uniforms in short pants these law officers easily maneuvered through the people and were able to maintain crowd control without disrupting the area with motor vehicles. I really love this idea, especially when transportation seems to be so difficult to obtain for our police in San Pedro. Couldn’t you just see a team of police patrolling our neighborhoods on bikes? Why not???

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to figuring out law enforcement in Belize. There are many countries we can learn from who have suffered the same problems we are currently facing and have found positive ways to solve them. Sometimes the easiest solutions are the hardest to see. How many unclaimed bikes are just piled at the Police Station? Why can’t they be used for transportation for our officers at times? Bicycles are certainly an acceptable means of transportation for many island residents and in many cases you can even reach a place faster on bike than by vehicle. Bike riding also offers physical health benefits to our officers, which is always a plus. I think if we could fashion a sporty biking uniform for our officers on the island and fancied up some of those abandoned bikes we could see more policemen on the streets with a minimal expense to the Police Department.

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