BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 19, 2021– In response to an alarming number of shootings over the last few weeks, a state of public emergency (SOE) has once again been declared in the southside of Belize City, and the regulations once again stipulate that persons who are detained under this SOE will be imprisoned for up to 30 days. Yesterday, the Governor General, H.E. Froyla Tzalam, on the basis of the provisions in section 18 (2) of the Belize Constitution, signed Statutory Instrument (SI) 89 of 2021, a proclamation declaring a state of public emergency in the southside of Belize City.
Today, the rules and conditions laid out by SI 90 of 2021 were also signed by the Governor General and are currently being enforced by members of the Police Department. These provisions have given the police expanded powers to stop, search, and detain any persons who they believe would engage in any criminal activity within the emergency area or any other part of Belize City. Persons will be subject to random stops and searches at the will of police officers manning the emergency areas.
As recently as Monday, when asked how he would handle the spate of violent crimes being seen within the country, the Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, alluded to the considerable decrease in violent crimes last year, which he said was a direct result of the extended state of emergency that was in place.
The regulations in SI 90 are thus geared at criminals and gang affiliates living and operating within the SOE areas, as defined by SI 89. Those areas are inclusive of all of Southside Belize City, the epicenter of criminal activity within the country.
However, the provisions under SI 90 also empower officers to detain persons outside those emergency areas if they are known to be criminals who are originally from the emergency areas.
Under SI 90, section 11 (3), persons will again be subject to detention for up to 30 days without having the option of applying for bail. Police officers will be able to detain individuals and hold them in any facilities authorized by the Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Kareem Musa.
Those persons’ records are to be processed as normal and held for up to two years by the Police Department.
If officers feel that any area, building or establishment is being used for the carrying out of criminal activities, they may make a request to the Minister of Home Affairs for an order directing the closure of those premises. The order is to be posted on the particular establishment.
The Commissioner of Police may also access the assistance of the Belize Defence Force and Coast Guard in cases where the manpower of the Police Department is not sufficient. Those soldiers will be empowered with the same authority to detain and arrest that has been given to police officers.
Some persons may escape the full severity of the provisions of the law by being placed on effective house arrest by the Minister of Home Affairs.
Any persons who violate the regulations imposed within SI 90, which will be in place until the end of the emergency period, will be subject to one year imprisonment.
In a late evening press conference, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams shared that they will be taking a targeted approach in the detention of the known criminal elements wreaking havoc in Belize City.
“We have seen a number of gang-related shootings in different parts of the city. The police have been able to conduct investigations in respect to these incidents and by the admission of the surviving victims as well as through our intelligence mechanism we have been able to pinpoint who are the persons behind these triggers.” COMPOL Williams shared.