Belize has declared a state of emergency (SOE) lockdown in part of the capital for the next 30 days as law enforcement authorities seek to quell an increase in gang warfare.
Police Commissioner, Chester Williams, says the police have been faced with the challenge of gathering enough evidence to put away gang members after they commit crimes.
The police and members of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) have been actively detaining gang members since Thursday and Williams, told reporters “we have seen a number of gang-related shootings in different parts of the City.
“While the police have been able to conduct investigations in relation to these incidents, by the admission of the surviving victims, as well as through our intelligence mechanisms, we have been able to pinpoint who are these persons behind these triggers.
“But, due to the fact that the surviving victims and witnesses in connection with the cases where the victims pass away, who do not wish to cooperate with the police investigation, when I say cooperate, I mean in terms of giving us what they may have seen in writing in the form of a statement, in order for us to effect an arrest, we have not been able to remove those persons off our streets.”
Williams said that the police have found that for the most part whenever these criminal activities occur, the relatives of the victims take their own retaliation.
“So that has made it hard for the police to arrest the situation by getting those people who are responsible, charged, and sent to prison. And so, we saw that particularly over the weekend that went, that the shootings were increasing, especially in the Antelope Street Extension area where there seems to be an intense feud over the sale of drugs between two rival groups, as well as the Mayflower area.
“As you know, that feud in that area has been going on for quite some time. And it has cost a number of lives,” he said, noting that last weekend a teenager went into the home of person “and could have executed three persons.
“So, we have seen a number of reckless shootings from these gang figures. And so with that, I made recommendations to our minister to instate a state of emergency because we have been unable to remove these people off the streets due to non-cooperation on the part of victims and witnesses,” Williams told reporters.
He said the Cabinet agreed that the best option to deal with the spike in gang-related crimes is to re-instate an SOE.
“I always tried my utmost best to resolve the street feuds through diplomacy or by way of the law where we can arrest and charge people. But, where we have situations where the victims and witnesses are not forthcoming, then the perpetrators remain on the streets knowing that nothing could be done to them in the absence of anybody giving statements against them.
“The Belizean people are on edge. Some people are fearful to move around in their own communities because of these gang members. And, we have to act in the best interest of our people,” said Williams, adding that “the issue of fighting crime is not the sole responsibility of the police.
“What happened shows that our society has changed. Our society has developed a propensity for violence. And, the police duty is to investigate, gather evidence, arrest, and charge. As I have said before, while we know who the perpetrators are, the witnesses are not cooperating.
“So, we are not able to get the evidence to charge those persons who are responsible. So, how could it be, it has to do with my approach? I am not the one parenting these thugs. I am not the one influencing them. Yes, I try my best to influence them in a positive way. But, at the end of the day, I cannot force them to listen to me.”