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Crime down, but murders up!

HeadlineCrime down, but murders up!

Photo: Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police

by Charles Gladden

BELMOPAN, Wed. July 3, 2024

In 2023, Belize saw a reduction in major crimes, with the year ending with a total of 88 murders; however, at the halfway point for this year, 2024, at the writing of this article, the murder toll already stood at 58.

This Wednesday, July 3, the Belize Police Department displayed its computer statistics or CompStat (shortened word), which is data compiled by the department to measure the crime trend and to enable a closer look at the number of crimes that have occurred in particular sections of the country.

The data for the second quarter of the year (April to June) was presented in Belmopan at the University of Belize Auditorium to senior police officers from the different regions throughout the country. During that presentation, it was highlighted that major crimes have decreased by 22% from January to June, but the total number of murders was considerably higher than it was at this point last year.

“The numbers for this year, so far, at the end of the second quarter mid-year reflect a 22% reduction in overall major crime. But of concern to me is the increase in murders. Murders are up by 13 when compared to the same period last year. We had 45, and this year at the end of the second quarter we have 58, [which] is too high,” said Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams.

Despite this year’s number of murders surpassing 2023 numbers, the ComPol remained positive and noted that in previous years the murder tally was higher at this point in the year.

“If we were to compare the numbers, in terms of where we are this year, to the previous years, excluding last year, we’ll be down; but we’re measuring [and] using last year as our measuring stick. So, commanders will be tasked to look at their respective crime-fighting strategies to see what we can do to deal with the issues that affect their respective areas,” he pointed out.

According to ComPol Williams, the Eastern Division, which includes Belize City, remains the central hub for the majority of crimes, with the murders being gang-related and taking place primarily on the south side of the city. Additionally, a total of ten murders occurred in the villages in the Belize District.

The second highest number of murders were committed in the Cayo District (Western region), where there have been 14 murders so far this year, compared to last year, when less than 10 murders had taken place in that district at the year’s midpoint. Notably, the lowest number of murders were in the northern and southern districts.

Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Kareem Musa also met with the media during the presentation of the quarterly COMPSTATS and noted that he is not satisfied.

“It is comparable to the two previous years of 2022 and 2021, but we are by no means satisfied with that. We want to continue having homicides trending downwards, like the other major crimes—robbery, theft, [and] burglaries. Those are all trending down, and we want to get the homicide rate under control the same way we did last year,” he said.

Currently, the south side of Belize City, also Roaring Creek and Cotton Tree Village of the Cayo District, are under a 90-day State of Emergency (SOE) due to the high incidence of violence that has been occurring in those areas.

Minister Musa predicted that the number of crimes being committed will fall in the upcoming weeks because of the criminals being locked up during the State of Emergency. While the SOE could be a temporary fix for the larger issue at hand, he explained that it is time for a discussion on what’s next and what could lead to a more permanent solution.

“I don’t think necessarily the State of Emergency was designed for this type of gang intervention. So, we could start discussing amending legislation, or even amending the Constitution for a gang detention period, as opposed to utilizing the State of Emergency. Because there are a small handful of young men who insist on carrying out this type of criminal activity; they do not want to change. I know that a majority of them do want to change; but there is that handful that will continue to wreak havoc, and so we will continue to apply pressure,” Minister Musa said.

“… In terms of amending legislation, that is one aspect; we can look at a different mechanism to put in place, such as a gang detention period. Also, we’re going to look at the next three months, amending legislation for gang and gun violence; and so, having possession of a firearm could carry up to five years of imprisonment. We’re looking to increase that penalty again by going through a consultation period with all the stakeholders—magistrates, judges [and] the DPP’s office—to see how we can improve the Firearms Act and increasing the penalty for illegal firearms,” he further mentioned.

As previously stated, the year 2023 was the first time in a long time that the tally of murders was in the double digits, as in previous years there was a triple-digit total number of murders at the end of the year, with 103 murders in 2020, 125 in 2021 (the highest), and 113 in 2022.

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