Over the past week, the discourse on citizen security, particularly on mediation, has been revived. This should have everyone pragmatic about the way forward. The exchange has surely put into perspective longstanding issues of policing and intervention efforts. So, if I may, I would like to briefly contextualise, without speculating the personal or professional motives of parties involved, as to why the institutionalisation of all mediation is nondebatable.
The homicide rate of Belize has had a steady climb with only recent fluctuation due to increased, but costly investment in crime prevention. The homicide rate of Belize between 2000 and 2010 increased by 150 percent, from 17 to 42 per 100,000 and has consistently maintained a homicide rate over the civil war benchmark of 30 per 100,000 since 2007. In 2012, Belize’s homicide rate surpassed the countries with the highest homicide rates in the Caribbean – Jamaica and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, as it rose to 44.7 per 100,000 (UNODC, 2013). In 2015, the homicide rate of Belize was 37 per 100,000 – more than 30 times the rate of the United Kingdom (UNODC, 2016) and 37.2 per 100,000 in 2016.
Often when violence is discussed, the focus is on intentional homicides. However, the ratio of homicides to shootings and stabbings will always be disproportionate because shootings and stabbings occur frequently but rarely result in deaths. Many victims of gun violence have survived severe injuries to both Zones 1 and 2 areas of the body, which in the past they frequently succumbed to. This is usually indicative of an intervening variable. The advancement of medical and healthcare in Belize has contributed enormously to this reduction. Though they rarely receive the appropriate recognition for their role in dealing with trauma and post-surgery care, medical practitioners have significantly averted many seemingly disastrous outcomes.
There has also been an unprecedented annual recruitment and growth of the Belize Police Department in an effort to narrow the gap in policing per population from 1,303 police officers in 2010 to 2,306 in 2016 – a 77 percent increase – with Belize District receiving the most personnel from 531 to 957 (Joint Intelligence Coordinating Centre, 2016). The ratio of police officers in Belize is 601 per 100,000, in comparison to the Latin America and Caribbean region which has 300 per 100,000. The disparity between Belize’s police to population ratio and that of Canada’s 192 per 100,000, United States’ 214, and England and Wales’ 180, suggests that the cost of security is significant. Yet, this has not proven to be the most effective approach.
Since 2010, Dr. Herbert Gayle, the region’s only Anthropologist of Social Violence, has been advocating through his work in Belize for the adoption of community policing (CP) beyond the Community Policing Unit (CPU), but as the modus operandi of the Belize Police Department (BPD). Notably, Assistant Commissioner Desiree Phillips has been a proponent of CP for several years. Nevertheless, the recent embracing of CP by Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal and his predecessor, Assistant Commissioner Chester Williams, as well as many other precincts of the Department, is a testimony of the remarkable advancement over the past few years. There may be some methodological and practical differences between commandants or precinct heads, but the philosophical underpinning of CP remains largely consistent.
Though I will not discuss the correlates of violence here, it is important to note that social conditions are congenital to the rise and fall of violence; hence, mediation and temporary truces should not be viewed as solutions in themselves, but as momentary relief that affords time to address risk factors and substantive enhancement of the quality of life of individuals and communities. Notwithstanding the aforementioned factors, it befuddles me that independent efforts can trump institutional mandates.
There is an urgency to develop and improve structures that address the issues of vulnerable youth in urban Belize, which requires all hands on deck, not competing elements. This takes us into a precarious area of mediating peace among warring factions that are legally considered criminal groups. The State must, despite probable reservations, consider itself a facilitator and broker of the peace process. The Conscious Youth Development Programme (CYDP) is strategically placed to lead this charge. Its staff has been conducting mediation for years. It is not a secret that the capacity of CYDP and by extension many government departments leave much to be desired, but active efforts to improve it should be paramount. Belize cannot continue to duplicate efforts by creating parallel systems. The Male Social Participation study provides copious recommendations to amalgamate CYDP and YFF under the Ministry of Youth in order to provide greater support and limit wastage of already constrained resources brought on by duplication. These are policy issues; hence, maligning their reputations without placing these limitations in context is counterproductive and shortsighted. Repudiation of our institutions demonstrates a fundamentally unsound approach to addressing a complex issue as violence.
It is arguable that one of the lacking ingredients for the veritable success of large-scale mediation efforts has been the steadfast commitment of police commandants over the years, which lent a massive resistance to the aforementioned facilitation role. So I am hasty to lend credence to the criticisms of the mediating mandate of CYDP. In addition, the Department of Youth Services (DYS) must be seen as a collaborative force in dealing with our young people. We cannot in one instance isolate them from key stakeholder engagements, but in another look to them to provide essential services if they have been effectively sidelined.
The more important question ought to be: What happens when a disenfranchised population’s trust is transferred from institutions to individuals/personalities? I will try to answer this by justifying the legitimacy of CYDP as the institution responsible for mediation.
Firstly, it is a multifaceted institution with a multi-disciplined staff of social workers, counselors, and police officers. Mediation is therapeutic and often results in disclosures, clarifications on the origins of conflict, and healing. This must be a managed process. There are many examples of ethical and safety issues that have emerged in this line of work, including the access to minors. An unfortunate situation without the proper and transparent safeguards is not one that we want to wait to occur. Secondly, it could provide oversight or at the very least a coordinating role in bringing key stakeholders into the peace process. If we are considering one of the risk factors to violence as poor social conditions and violence as a by-product, the process should incorporate stakeholders that can identify the needs and services that remain unmet as a part of a wrap-around approach. It allows for access to the indirect population and environs of vulnerable youth that are an extension of their vulnerabilities.
Thirdly, strategic planning, effective policy-making, technical and financial resource allocation are more suited under an institution. Best practices are established through proper documentation of clearly-defined goals, lessons learned, methodological reviews, identification of ethical quagmires and risks with corrective actions, and the monitoring and evaluation of strategies developed and implemented, leading toward sustained, measurable, and repeatable mediation success.
Fourthly, technical and financial assistance through capacity building, training or resources from local and international bodies will include these agencies as key stakeholders in the community safety process.
Lastly and most importantly, institutional memory is a vital component of dealing with generational conflict, which transcends individuals. We must acknowledge and reward the skill and efficiency of individual partners, but also be confident that our institutions have the capacity and resources to withstand “shocks” caused by changes (resignations, retirements, transfers, voluntarism, etc.). Individuals should become a part of CYDP’s mediation efforts, not the contrary. The recent ambivalence shared by and through the media due to an interdepartmental transfer is attributable to the customary lack of confidence in sustainability and continuity of programmes.
In closing, there is an elasticity point for all peace interventions when the sacrifices are seemingly one-sided. This was alluded to in a recent interview with a community agent of the Mayflower area. CYDP must quickly engage these young men in a social contract that extends beyond their ability to “hold the peace,” but to demonstrate the State’s capacity and willingness to provide economic and educational opportunities that will allow them to satisfy their most primal needs. A basic study of the social exclusion perspective will demonstrate the crippling effect of deprivation on human capabilities. We must be mindful of apathy that may emerge if parties are vested in the peace process but it bears limited security or economic fruit. It would be remiss of me not to point out that during consistent conflict, and high mortality, groups are more likely to be brought to the table. This has happened. However, recruitment velocity and triggers, among other factors, can determine how long they remain faithful to a peace agreement with rival groups, and if disagreements metastasize among all groups and our relative peace cascades back to violence.
Yours in peace,
Greg Nunez, Ph.D. Candidate (UK)