When I joined the Belize Police Force on April the 23, 1973, the Belize Police Force was comprised of the Police Special Force (PSF) and the Belize Police Force (BPF). The Special Force Officers received six months of police training and six months of military training. This qualified a Special Force Officer to conduct both military and police duties, while the police officers received six months of police training and no military training.
This was the case because the British Honduras Constabulary Force (BHCF), which we now know as the Belize Police Force, was founded in 1886 under the command of Captain D.M. Allen, who had served in the British West Indian Regiment to conduct both duties.
The soldiers were recruited from all the British colonies in the Caribbean to serve a contract for five years. Many of these soldiers remained in Belize. During that time, some of them were stationed in Corozal and Orange Walk, to fight against the Maya people who were fighting for their lands against the British. By the year 1888, there were about 175 soldiers in the BHCF.
Police officers and soldiers receive different types of training, and they also have completely different types of functions as well. Soldiers are trained to fight wars in defense of their countries. Police officers are trained to preserve and maintain law and order and to arrest and prosecute those individuals who break the laws of the country. When soldiers are asked to perform police duties, that creates a grave risk to the citizens because they will not be able to react to a situation in the same manner that police officers would.
When a situation escalates with civilians, they are more likely to discharge their weapons unjustifiably than a police officer would due to their inexperience. The Belize Government can avoid this problem by creating a Police Unit that can deal with police and military operations and that is paramilitary, like a SWAT team. From time to time the police officers will face many situations that they will not be able to deal with, and the SWAT team will be prepared to act, so this branch is needed.
The use of the SWAT team must not be abused by the government or the senior commanding officers for routine activities, because that will lead to the violation of our citizens’ constitutional rights. This was what happened with the GSU under the previous government, with several abuses of our citizens’ rights. When the PUP were in the opposition, they were constantly complaining about GSU abuses. Now, they have disbanded the GSU, given it another name, but the same abuses still exist under their government.
Changing the name of a section of the Police Department will not end the abuses. They must train a group of officers like PSF to get the job done, use them only when there are situations that the regular Police cannot deal with, and stop the deployment of BDF soldiers in our civilian communities to do police work. In looking at the video of the fatal shooting of BDF soldier Escobar by another BDF soldier, it is clear to see that the force that was used was unlawful and excessive.
Not only are that BDF soldier and police officers responsible for Escobar’s death, but the government is likewise. If that BDF soldier was not deployed on that patrol team, Escobar would still be alive today. The Ministers of Home Affairs, National Security and Defence have some explanation to provide to our citizens — not the Commissioner of Police who works for them.
Until the Government of Belize discontinues the use of BDF soldiers in carrying out police duties and functions, more of these types of incidents will occur in our country. Our BDF soldiers are trained to defend our country against Guatemala and those civilians from there, who continue to cross our borders to steal our natural resources daily. Let the soldiers go and do the job that they are trained to do and keep them out of our civilian neighborhoods, until when serious emergencies are occurring.