Letters — 18 March 2017

Mr. Allen Whylie
Commissioner of Police
Police Headquarters
Belmopan

Mr. George Lovell
Chief Executive Officer
Ministry of Home Affairs
Belmopan

March 16, 2017

Commissioner,

We met on January 11, 2017, at Old Belize to discuss the state of police/media relations. At that time, the media agreed to try a new public relations model for a six-week period. Nine weeks have elapsed. I write today on behalf of my fellow media practitioners from Channel 7, Channel 5, LOVE FM and LOVE TV, KREM Radio and KREM TV, The Amandala, The Reporter, and The Belize Times to inform you that the media has rejected this public relations model. We do so, because it does not work — and it does a disservice to the public we both serve.

The problem continues to be, first, a lack of dedication on the part of the persons designated to liaise with the media. (Yes, they don’t all work for the media — they have other responsibilities — but at least the Police Press Officer is supposed to answer our queries in a timely manner.)

Second, we cannot get the Public Relations Unit to hold briefings on any major crime, particularly when there are multiple major incidents during one weekend.

Sir, these briefings are important, because there is much more to informing the public than what can be included in three to five sentences in a flat press release. The clear understanding coming out of the meeting was that we could request interviews with commanding officers regarding major crimes.

However, since our meeting there has been one single encounter with a Commanding Officer, and it was to discuss a community initiative, not a criminal investigation. There have been a total of four press briefings by the Public Relations Unit and none in the last month. Their performance in these encounters has been less than stellar, and mis-statements of fact have been made by the press officers, due to a lack of familiarity with the cases.

As for the WhatsApp chat group that should have facilitated the free and timely flow of information, the performance of the press office has been unacceptable. The majority of requests for information go un-answered. Moreover, there are major arrests, crimes and busts that are not reported in this group, or via press release.

Regarding the press releases, these continue to be devoid of photographs, when we know very well that photographs (such as those of confiscated weapons, drugs and suspects) do exist. But to get them, some minor effort is required on behalf of the Press Office. It seems, even this is too much to ask.

Sir, all these circumstances (and many more) have conspired to fetter the free flow of information, undermining citizen security and creating a dysfunctional state of police-media relations. This has forced the media to initiate a boycott of all police events because the media houses feel that the police are asking us to give, but not giving in return.

Reciprocity and respect are the pillars of our relationship, and they need to be restored. This can be done through a committed, active and informed engagement with the press, similar to what pertained before you unilaterally changed the rules in early January. Under that arrangement, there was a healthy flow of information, the public was better informed, and the police benefited from literally hours of coverage of pro-policing news.

Notably, since this new model was enacted, there have been only two items reported on this media house that could be considered pro-police. Why is this? Because the opportunities to do so have not been created by the police press office.

And when one was created earlier this week with the GREAT program, it was already too late; the relationship had been irretrievably damaged by the poor and uncaring performance of the police press office.

Sir, we do not want to boycott the police; we have been forced to do so by your lack of respect for our process, and the needs of the public we serve. I urge that long overdue meeting (22 days) between all parties to urgently revise the police/media engagement model and restore the free, unfettered flow of information.

Respectfully,

Jules Vasquez

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