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Jul 31, 2003

Is policing city a soldier’s job?

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You see them everywhere on the streets of Belize City: young men with big guns. No, not gang boys; we’re talking about the B.D.F…and the concept of soldiers as policemen.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

It is perhaps the most visual reminder of the crime situation in Belize…armed police officers flanked by M-16 carrying members of the Belize Defence Force.

But it is a partnership that both uniformed services say has made a difference.

G. Michael Reid, Police Press Officer

“Crime is at this point, is certainly not where we would want it to be. But we believe it would have been much worse had not the B.D.F. been there supporting the police in their endeavour.”

Lt. Col. George Lovell, Deputy Commandant, B.D.F.

“The crime situation in Belize dictates that we should have some level of presence on the streets. I think no one would argue that there’s a need for some sort of security forces being out there and have visual presence on the streets.”

But wait a minute…doesn’t the B.D.F. belong in the bush; patrolling the western border in defence of our sovereignty? Well, according to Lt. Colonel George Lovell, the Deputy Commandant of the Belize Defence Force, the soldiers are chartered by the Defence Act to assist civil authority in order to maintain law and order.

Lt. Col. George Lovell

“We work jointly with the police. We hope that the police would lead in dealing directly with the public. They would be there, primarily providing that sort of security coverage that the policeman would normally require while carrying out his functions. Having said that, because they have been out there for some time now, they have learnt from the practical experiences that they have had working with the police in handling these occasions. Yes, they are still rooms for improvement and it’s something that we try and address in our everyday debriefing of the soldiers and talking to them to prepare them for the patrols that they would go out with the police.”

But the cops and B.D.F. play by different rules. When it comes to force, police officers can shoot to injure, but soldiers are trained to kill.

Lt. Colonel George Lovell

“What we tell our soldiers is that we shoot at centre of mass. And we normally use a term “bottom centre of the white patch”, which is to the centre of the target…”

Janelle Chanona

“The centre of the body being where?”

Lt. Colonel George Lovell

“The chest, being the chest. Whenever you go on the range you will find a white patch being placed on the targets. And that’s where we normally train our soldiers to engage.”

Janelle Chanona

“A shot to the chest though with an M-16 would probably be fatal.”

Lt. Col. George Lovell

“Yeah. But we don’t tell them…basically we don’t practice shooting warning shots even though after certain experiences that we have had in the streets the questions came up that maybe what we should do is to have within our rules of engagement warning shots and we have since then devised rules of engagement that stipulate that they can in fact fire warning shots now.”

But how does the public react to what is a license to kill? According to Police Press Officer G. Michael Reid, Belizeans appreciate the effort.

G. Michael Reid

“If you speak to residents out there in the street, you will know that they are comforted when they see these guys out there. They know then that they are protected, which is what they are there for, to protect life and property. And certainly the concern of every citizen is important to us. What we’ve gotten is nothing but positive comments and that people are indeed comforted to know that the police and B.D.F. are working together for their protection.”

“We rely heavily upon them, in particular in areas where there is high crime and periods of the year when we really need to be vigilant.”

According to the authorities, good relations have the B.D.F. and police working side by side, so now, the only weak link in the chain of change is public cooperation.

According to the Belize Defence Force, approximately sixty-five soldiers are participating in the city patrol programme. They work in shifts, ensuring that twenty-four hours a day, there is a military presence on the streets.



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