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Dec 8, 2017

Can Police Turn Over a New Leaf?

Edwin Hernandez

On the adjournment, a variety of topics were raised, usually about outstanding current issues. One is the ongoing battle between police and citizens, exemplified in the recent death of Edwin Antonio Baires Hernandez on Sunday afternoon in Teakettle Village. Police pursued the twenty-year-old Salvadoran national, following a suspected robbery and shot him in the right leg when a service weapon assigned to one of the responding officers suddenly discharged.  According to police, the shooting incident was accidental and Baires-Hernandez was found to have died as a result of choking on food particles he may have been chewing at the time the officers pursued him.  Cayo South area representative Julius Espat called on police to clean up their act and Minister of State for Home Affairs Elodio Aragon Junior responded, emphasizing that the department is turning over a new leaf on abuse and corruption as well as fighting crime.

 

Julius Espat

Julius Espat, Area Rep., Cayo South

“We have a serious problem in our police force as I see it, and I believe it is a problem that can be solved if the Government is interested. And I would like to lend some advice, hopefully it is taken, Prime Minister. This is our country, meaning Belizeans, and we should find a way – that our security forces, the level of respect that they can gain from our villagers, we need to raise it up. So I have some concerns. It seems, and I am not sure of this, but I was informed that the police officer that did the shooting is a person recently graduated to become a police officer. I might be wrong, but if that’s the case, I am concerned that the recruits or the young ones are given weapons at a short period in their training or in their career when they really don’t have enough experience to be handling that weapon. It doesn’t matter if it was an accident, and the weapon fell and the person was shot, or if he was shot deliberately; the matter is that the police that had that weapon did not have the necessary knowledge and the experience in how to utilize that weapon. Madam Speaker, when you are there to protect people, it is not necessary to be carrying weapons and brandishing weapons in people’s homes and in front of children and having death happen so easily. So, Prime Minister, and the Minister responsible for Police, we have to make sure that our recruits have the necessary capacity to become police officers.”

 

Elodio Aragon Jr.

Elodio Aragon Jr., Area Rep., Orange Walk East

“In regard to the investigation in Cayo that has resulted in the death of someone, that file has been sent to the D.P.P. so the D.P.P. can give directives in that matter. This is a police investigation in terms of the Professional Standards Branch looking into the matter, doing the investigation that needs to be done and be sent to the D.P.P. for her to give directives – that is the procedure [of how] we do things. You must realize, in many instances, that when police officers are called, police officers are called to respond to incidences that the public call police on – police neva just gahn deh fi gahn deh. Many times, police must respond to the needs of the people. And in these cases sometimes, if there are abuses, we ask the general public to report it as soon as possible so we can look into that. Madam Speaker, since I’ve been there we have been looking at changes, and the Professional Standards Branch is a pillar of the change that we want to see. Having put [ACP] Chester Williams there, we are looking, already identifying offices in every district where we will place police officers from the Professional Standard Branch to work in these offices that will be independent from the Belize Police Department’s offices in each district. And why are we doing this? Because we want the public to have the confidence in the Professional Standards Branch, that they can report to these offices, where it is not a police officer you will be dealing with, but rather civilians and police officers who are independent of the Belize Police Department in that regard. Not working on official police duties in terms of preventative patrols but rather as officers who investigate wrongdoing and corruption in terms of police officers.”

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