The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, was upbeat two weeks ago when he reported to the media about the number of violent crimes this year. Williams, who became Police Commissioner in January 2019, swore that the crime scene would improve with him at the helm. The cynics might have said that, the crime situation being so horrific, he could hardly do worse than his predecessors, but the fact is that he could. Every commissioner of police in recent years has had to answer for an ever-worsening crime situation in the country.
Commissioner Williams can’t boast, but the trend in the murder rate is not discouraging. He has to keep fighting. We like his pride, his zeal to make a difference, and leave a good record. We must remind him that one score that will go on his ledger pertains to the trial for the murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas. Our present commissioner took it upon himself to do the groundwork for the case that was presented by the state.
Commissioner Williams, after his nine-plus months in charge of the Police Department, cannot report that we are back to being the peaceful haven that we boast of in our National Anthem, but he has our bow pointed in the right direction. In a story in the government’s newspaper, The Guardian, Commissioner Williams said that “we are policing in tough times”, but he could say that “our figures look good compared to the same period last year.”
The statistics have not yet been published, but Love FM reported that between January and September 2019 there were 97 homicides in Belize. In 2018 there were 143 murders, which meant a murder rate of 36.8 per 100,000, based on the population estimate of 388,000 at the beginning of 2019.
Our horrific murder rate has been hovering in this range for quite some time now. Our murder rate has been over 30 per 100,000 every year since 2006, except for 2013 when it was at 28.76. The year 2012 was our worst, with a murder rate of 43.06, and 2010 was not far off, with a murder rate of 40.11.
97 murders for the first 9 months of 2019 projects to a murder rate of about 32 per 100,000, based on a population of 400,000, so, we can say that we are doing better than last year. It is obvious to all that the new commissioner is working very hard, but we have a very long way to go before we won’t be lying when we sing, in our National Anthem, that we are a “tranquil haven.”
We are among the most murderous nations in the world, and it must be the primary objective of any government of Belize to bring our murder rate into the realm of civilized nations.
We tend to think that the USA is a murderous nation, but that is only because that nation’s media reports relentlessly on this crime. In the USA they will pursue unsolved murder cases for decades. The murder rate in the USA is about 5 per 100,000. The murder rate in Canada is less than 2 per 100,000 of their citizens. Those are the kinds of numbers that can be associated with a “tranquil haven.”
Commissioner Williams said these are “tough policing times” and we deduce he was alluding to the drug traffickers who seem to have impunity using our country as a transshipment point. However, there are countries in our region that are used as transshipment points that have less than one third the murder rate Belize has.
Nicaragua has a murder rate of a little over 8 per 100,000, Panama had a murder rate of 9.6 per 100,000 in 2018, and Costa Rica had a murder rate of 11.7 in 2018. Those countries must be doing some things better than we are.
We don’t have the full story about the state of corruption in the governments in Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, but we know enough about the governance systems in the democracies in the USA and Canada to say that in those countries corruption in government is nowhere near as rampant as it is in Belize. Numerous studies have shown that corrupt political leaders corrupt a country’s police force and the end story is a spike in the homicide rate and other violent crimes.
One report said that Belize has a conviction rate of 7% in murder cases. The government had the resources to set up a first class forensics laboratory to increase the capacity of our police to bring hard criminals in our society to justice, and they balked, passed on it. In the book, Like Bush Fire, at least twice the authors mentioned political interference in our Police Department and the huge demoralizing effect that interference has on our police officers. Indeed, a single interference into the work of the police by their political bosses can drive the entire department into a state of malaise.
Murder is not the only crime that is out of control in this country. It seems that a week doesn’t go by without reports of a rape, and often this horrendous crime is perpetrated on our most vulnerable, the youth and children. It also seems that a week doesn’t go by without reports of a terrifying armed robbery. Whatever the cause, it is another blot on our nation.
Crime is out of control in Belize, but our Commissioner of Police notes that we are trending in the right direction, specifically as it relates to murder. The numbers support his claim.
Compton Fairweather is a Belizean hero, and we celebrate his life and mourn his passing. He is remembered for his knowledge, which he did not hold back from his people; his engineering and production of some of Belize’s finest music; his work in communications and the exploration of oil; and, most of all, for his work with the Freedom Committee in New York. His organization kept Belizeans abroad in touch with their homeland, and kept the nation alert about all developments taking place between the British and Belize governments, and the Guatemalan government, in respect to the unfair Guatemalan claim to Belize.
Respect, Mr. Compton, you served your nation well.