BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 17, 2016–A society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable: its young and its elderly. This message is gleaned from the last public address of former US Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1977. At the time, Belize probably saw a rare murder and for the most part, people took care of each other; today, we live in a different Belize, with the country seeing triple digit homicides and heading for another record year without serious intervention.
Just last week, a 7-year-old boy, Tyler Savery, was gunned down in broad daylight while days later, an elderly woman, Victoria Castillo, was found brutally hacked to death, signaling the current state of our nation, where murder convictions are still very rare, and more than 90% of cases don’t come to satisfactory closure, leaving murderers to roam free.
Reviewing the historical data, we found that the number of homicides committed in Belize has almost doubled over the last decade compared to the previous 10 years. Official data gleaned from the Belize Police Department and the OAS Crime Observatory reveal that for the period 1996 to 2005, there were 604 murders, with the average being 60 murders a year; this contrasts sharply with the decade 2006 to 2015, which has seen 1,128 murders, for an average of 113 murders a year. This year is well above that average, at 130 as of this report.
In its headline news tonight, KREM TV reported that at 130 murders to date for 2016, the year could turn out to be another record year.
This was confirmed to us when we spoke tonight with the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Retired Colonel George Lovell, who works out of the ministry responsible for the Police Department.
Amandala reviewed the statistics on record, and learned that this year continues to outpace the year 2012 when murders hit a record high of 145. It was reported on November 25, 2012 that the 130th murder had just taken place. Today, on November 17, we can confirm that the number has already reached 130 for the year to date.
Data we reviewed via Belize’s recently launched online crime observatory revealed that by the end of July this year, there had been 90 murders already, two more than had occurred by the end of July 2012.
Recently, we have been reporting that the murder count for 2016 has already exceeded last year’s murder count. It is 9.2% higher today.
Belize’s murder count first reached high triple-digit figures in the year 2008, when for the first time, 103 murders were recorded in a single year; but the following year, the number went down by 6 murders to 97. A new record was set in 2010, when the murder count increased to 129. Again the number went down the following year, by 5 murders, reaching a tally of 124. The following year, it escalated to an all-time high of 145, but it declined by an impressive 32% the following year.
Since then, the murder count has sustained triple-digit figures, with this year approaching record numbers, if the current pattern keeps up.
Have law enforcement authorities resigned themselves to accepting the status quo and accepting that this year will set a new tragic record for the country of Belize?
“I don’t even want to say that!” Lovell replied to us. “We will do all that we could [to avert that].”
“For 2012, we can’t change those [figures], but we can certainly have an impact on what the 2016 figure will be and we will do all we can in our power to ensure that we can keep it as close to the 130 that it is, rather than going to the record figure that we saw in 2012… One more murder is one murder too much,” he told us.
In looking at the 2016 incidents, Lovell said, “A number of the murders, unlike 2012, are not necessarily the gang-related murders, even though there are quite a significant number of murders in the Belize District that are gang-related. So our strategy in terms of trying to arrest the murder situation must be for us to look at what are things that cause people to get involved in those other types of murders that are added to the statistics—murders where there are crimes of passion, or resulting from arguments and [drunken] fights that we certainly need to look at.”
He added that, they certainly need to look at that going into the Christmas season. The Police Department has done the analysis and is quite aware of the issues, and “have put in place a number of activities to ensure that they can try as much as possible to reduce the incidents that would be conducive to situations that would cause people to be killing each other…” Lovell added.
He told Amandala that in the coming weeks, there will be increased police presence and vigilance and the performance of “extraneous duties” has been approved to accommodate the additional street surveillance they plan to undertake.
He told us that public drinking is the one thing that will certainly have to be enforced.
However, recently, photos have been circulating of cops boozing on the job, and Lovell told us that he is well aware, and he encourages the public to “name and shame” those officers who, he said, are bringing the Police Department into disrepute.
“There is no justification to say why they should be in uniform drinking and carrying on in a manner that brings the Department into disrepute,” said Lovell, agreeing that members of the public should help police the police by taking their pictures and posting them publicly, as was recently done via social media.
“Let them be embarrassed and give the Commissioner of Police and his people something to look at and deal with… Help us to rid the department of these kinds of behavior which is certainly unacceptable,” Lovell said.