|Police officials, BDF, Cabinet Secretary and Honorable Ferguson met with business community.
Belize is currently in its peak tourism season and hearing the plights of the business community, Prime Minister Said Musa dispatched Belize Defense Force (BDF) personnel to San Pedro in an effort to assist the local San Pedro Police Department in reducing the crime incidences.
On Monday, December 2nd, the San Pedro Business Association met with Minister of Defense Rodwell Ferguson at a meeting held at Banana Beach’s El Divino Restaurant. Present for the meeting, as well, were Cabinet Secretary Robert Leslie, Brigadier General Oswald Gillette, Officer in Charge of San Pedro Town Assistant Superintendent Humberto Patt and Senior Superintendent of Police Crispin Jeffries.
Leslie spoke of the government’s role on the fight against crime. “The matter was discussed and it was decided that we needed to make an immediate impact on San Pedro. Therefore, a short deployment of Belize Defense Force personnel were dispatched to the island. Working hand in hand with the San Pedro Police Department the soldiers remained on the island from Thursday to Monday.” Honorable Ferguson said, “We want to know what is your [the community]response.” But, before, ASP Patt spoke on the work carried out during the weekend. “There was increased 24 hour patrols to all areas on the island. Police officers were separated and worked together with two BDF soldiers as well as the National Coast Guard. Although the searches for weapons were heightened, none was found or removed from the streets of San Pedro. However, BDF personnel is not a long term solution.
The floor was then opened for comments and questions. Everyone was in accordance that soldiers armed with guns patrolling the streets was not as nerve racking as it may have seemed. Some had concerns that tourists may not like the idea of having these type of patrols but most business owners agreed that it was wonderful to see the BDF on the island.
More patrols on the south side of the island were requested. “There is easy road access there and yet there is hardly any police presence. A lot of the problems that North Ambergris Caye is experiencing we experience too,” commented Josh Buettner. Another concern was the police presence at Casino Belize on a nightly basis. ASP Patt explained that although the officers are there, these are off duty officers who are not on their shift at the department. “But does this not take away from the island? I mean there they are working after hours,” commented a member. Patt reiterated that this practice has been carried out for years. “Anyone requesting special duty services for our off duty officers is more than welcome to contact us and we will accommodate them,” he explained.
Head Security at Banana Beach Gene Lopez had three points to make; 1) Three main areas that need to be targeted and these include San Pedrito, San Juan and Boca del Rio. 2) There needs to be an increase in beach patrols. Many times tourists enjoy taking a romantic stroll down the beach and police presence on the shores would lessen the robbery incidences. 3) More Belizean officers. Many convicts arrive on San Pedro looking for better opportunities. Often times they continue their criminal ways while on the island. Having officers from Belize City who know the faces of these individuals might be great assets to the San Pedro Police Department. Honorable Ferguson suggested starting a Job Bank within the San Pedro Business Association which would assist individuals in looking for a job.
Removing individuals who do not have a permanent home or a steady job on the island may not be done. According to Honorable Ferguson, taking people off the island, removing them is a violation of their constitutional rights. However, individuals may be arrested and charged for loitering but this can only be done after the person refuses to leave the property after having been asked by police officers. Undercover personnel were requested and ASP Patt corroborated that presently the San Pedro Police force has one undercover officer working with them. SPBA member Diane Campbell suggested the closing down of liquor establishments at an earlier hour allowing for less stumbling on the streets. “We have seen that people under the influence become easy targets or are prone to commit more crimes. Closing earlier would be an option,” commented Campbell. Understanding peak times is also an indicator of when increased forces need to be dispatched to the island; more patrols on the water.
Honorable Ferguson went on to explain that two task forces need to be formed, one by the San Pedro Business Association and one by the Government of Belize. These task forces will have the responsibility of making a list of items and services needed after which a proposal will be formulated. Secretary of the San Pedro Business Association stated that they have formed their own task force which has collected close to $40,000 and a boat. The money will be used to outfit the boat and to fund the existing Special Constable program.
Honorable Ferguson went on to explain that the brief tenure of the BDF personnel on the island, BDF Department’s pockets was drier of $2,700. This money was spent for eight BDF soldiers’ accommodations and meals for the period of Thursday to Monday. In order to continue with these operations, funding will be required as the BDF Department has limited resources. At the end of the meeting both task forces met to discuss the items on the agenda.