The Commissioner of Police (ComPol) occupies an extremely important post in our fledgling democracy, as he and he alone drives our internal security apparatus. It is through the ComPol that the State exercises its monopoly on the use of force and the right to deprive citizens of their liberty on the grounds of national security. Plainly put, the ComPol wields extraordinary powers! History has taught us, however, that if a democracy is to survive, one imbued with such powers must exercise it judiciously and independently.
Earlier this month the immediate former ComPol, David Henderson, was seen campaigning for the UDP in Unitedville for the village council elections – a mere four months after leaving the office of ComPol. In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that Henderson was a UDP Commissioner. If one draws such a conclusion, two obvious questions emerge (1) was David Henderson judicious and independent in the exercise of his office as ComPol? And (2) can David Henderson exercise the functions of the office of Director of the National Forensic Service with the professionalism and independence that such office demands?
Some supporters of the PUP have been making a great deal of noise at Henderson’s overt support for the UDP, but the PUP has not given us, thus far, any reason to believe that things will be different on their watch. It would be reassuring for them to do so and to do so now! I say this because immediately after the UDP’s victory in 2008, senior police officers suspected of supporting the PUP were reportedly ostracized: effectively purged from the Department! When the PUP eventually regains office, are we to expect retaliation against those officers suspected of being UDPs?
I am unsure when it was that partisan politics began to divide the Police Department, but those who have eyes will see that there are three types of police officers: UDP police officers, PUP police officers and professional police officers. I will dare say that the majority of our police officers fall in the last category, but it is the first two factions that call the shots, depending on which party is in power. The division in the Police Department has worked wonders for the politicians; the problem is that nothing that is good for the politicians is ever good for Belize.
Today, the game of political musical chairs in the Police Department continues in an atmosphere of institutional inertia, ineptitude and corruption. Crime continues to escalate, prosecutions continue to fail on the back of weak investigative work, and countless citizens cry out almost weekly about beatings and even the death of their loved ones at the hands of the police. This is the Belizean reality – a sad reality that is the result of the love affair between the politicians and the police.
In my thesis I have merely diagnosed the problem, but the million-dollar question remains, how do we fix it?
Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)
May 22, 2013