COVID-19 has infected over two hundred thousand people around the world and its death toll is in the thousands. In Belize, however, we are COVID free for now, yet our death toll is on the rise as the street thugs and criminals were running free up until three o’clock this morning. Belize’s law enforcement agencies and its military are pouncing on these killers and shooters, taking back control of the old capital, Belize City. The Belize Police Department swung into action early this morning after the Governor-General approved the State of Emergency.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “The Ministry of National Security has deemed it necessary and sought the approval of the Governor General and we have gotten it for him to declare a state of emergency and for him to sign some regulations governing the activities to be undertaken by the police, the BDF and Coast Guard if necessary in the declared and demarcated areas. We believe that we’ve been trying to reason with criminals for too long, we’ve tried just about everything but the time has come for the gloves to come off. If you are a criminal intent on committing criminal acts within this city and in this country over all you will be in some trouble; you’ll be facing the wrath of the people represented by the police department and other security forces. I want to assure you that if you’re a law abiding citizen the security forces will treat you with courtesy and with respect and if you are a law abiding citizen we expect that you also treat the security forces with dignity and respect and know that what they’re doing is for your protection.”
The announcement of a State of Emergency came via a press conference this afternoon led by the Minister of National Security, Michael Peyrefitte. Peyrefitte spoke briefly on the operation but did ensure that he sent a strong message for the criminals. According to Peyrefitte, the persons detained by police could be held for up to 365 days.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “We will also be doing some analysis of the situation, more analysis. We’ll be working with anyone who wants to work with us to ensure that we can come up with a proper and even more refined plan to tackle crime in the city and in the country but in the meantime we believe that while we must have that conversation we must also demonstrate to the criminal element that their activities are not going to continue without them facing and being dealt with to the full extent of the law. These people can be detained for up to thirty days, after seven days within seven days they’ll be told as to the reason for their detention. After fourteen days the public will get a list of those people. After that thirty day period the government can decide through the National Assembly to extend it for up to a year and beyond that if we have to. We are not playing with these people.”
As we noted, the joint operation under this State of Emergency began as early as three o’clock this morning with over two hundred and fifty security personnel engaged. That personnel is from the BDF, specialized units of the Police Department and the Eastern Division. According to the Police Commissioner, Chester Williams the operation is timely as it affords them the chance to prepare and protect the streets once COVID-19 arrives. He added that one of the provisions of the State of Emergency is a curfew.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “There a number of persons in custody, Mr.Vidal will tell you the exact amount, and there are a number of persons that we’re still seeking at this time for whom we have prepared detention orders for. We will be preparing a list of those persons with their photograph and we’ll be publishing them in the media so that you can see them and if you see them anywhere in your neighborhood, call us, call Crime Stoppers they’ll be giving a reward for the capturing of these persons. So we’ll be publishing their names very shortly hopefully between two to three days and we’ll put it out there for the public to be able to call in and tell us who they are because some of them have fled and gone into different parts of the country in hiding; well we want to flush them out and get them to prison where they belong. At the expiration of the one month as the minister has said we will be making representation to the government and ask for extension because we believe that with all that is about to happen with the COVID-19 we cannot have the ICU in Belize City filled with gangsters with gunshot injury then when your grandmother or grandfather get corona and need the ICU there will be no space for them, it cannot work. The ICU must remain open and vacant for those persons who may catch the corona virus and may need to use the ICU. The regulation does call for curfew for minors and as you’d know that we still have the Protection of Children Declaration Belize City regulation in place so even in the absence of this regulation there is a curfew throughout the year in Belize City but yes the regulation does make provision for curfew for minors in the declared areas.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “From 8pm to 6am you must be accompanied by an adult if you’re going to be out at that time.”
The State of Emergency is being applied for the south side of Belize City where the majority of crimes occur. Heading the operation is Assistant Commissioner of Police, Marco Vidal who explained to the media that the south side of the city has been divided into eight zones.
Those areas not included in the eight zones are still being watched and according to Commissioner Williams and ACP Vidal, there is nowhere that the criminals will be able to hide under this operation.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “There are some areas that are not declared. Let me say to those people in those areas that are not declared that we will be monitoring your behaviors and the minute we see that you want to become reckless or senseless then I will be the first to speak to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister and asked that your area be declared and then you’ll face the wrath as well.”
Marco Vidal, Commander of Operations, Belize Police Department: “2018,-2020 there are things, certain glitches, that we seek to iron out during this operation. We are following every process in regards to the detention of these individuals, we have senior officers ensuring that the proper procedures are being followed, we’re keeping our records to date so if there should be any process later we are following the procedures that are required by law for us to carry out. So I mean as the commissioner said everybody who has a grievance has a right to bring a suit.”
As Vidal noted, the police are moving carefully to ensure that they cannot be sued in the process and to ensure that proper prosecution can be had if required.