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Sep 29, 1999

Compol Williams says police will win back public confidence

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Although there were indirect references to former Police Commissioner Ornel Brooks who resigned on Monday, today’s press conference at the Raccoon Street Station was not about the past, but the way forward for the Police Force. The new chief, who is acting in the post of Commissioner until he is officially installed, seemed to feel honesty was the best policy when speaking to a public which has lost faith in those who are supposed to serve them. He says the men and women in khaki will win back public confidence, and they will work closely with allied agencies, including the Director of Public Prosecutions Adolph Lucas. Karla Heusner reports.

Acting Commissioner Hughinton Williams is facing more than just the daunting task of making the streets safe again; he must reinvent a Police Force marred by a steady stream of allegations of brutality and human rights violations. Williams said the criticisms of the department are not unwarranted, but he fully intends to turn things around.

Hughinton Williams, Acting Commissioner of Police

“This is a people’s Police Department; each police officer has a share in this department. Each officer has the responsibility to carry out something that has been placed on their shoulder; some area of tasking that has been given to them. It is expected that they will discharge that tasking with efficiency. That’s what I will be looking at.

I will not divulge details of dealing with anyone at this time but what I can assure you, we are taking a careful look at what was happening and focussing in a new direction where we will take this department. And if there is anyone who in any way who intends to create a hindrance to the progress of this department then I think they should consider parting company with us.”

Williams says the days of antagonism between the Police Commissioner and the D.P.P. are over.

Hughinton Williams

“During every major investigation there will be consultations with the D.P.P. Office. It won’t be at the end when somebody sends in a file and we will be seeking to have some decision made, we will be seeking his advice at every step of that investigation. That’s what his office is all about.”

Assistant Commissioner Carmen Zetina provides some continuity from the old command regime but fully supports the Acting Commissioner and looks forward to being part of the new team.

Carmen Zetina, Assistant Commissioner

“It is my intention to fully support Mr. Williams. I’m a police officer who believes in proactiveness; you’re gonna see the police more proactive. This I have emphasized before to Mr. Williams. Now that he is the Commissioner I think that we’re going to implement it. We are not going to sit back. We definitely have to gain some respect for the police officer. We will target that. That is going to be one of our main objectives: to gain some confidence back; the police must gain that. The only way we can do that is seeing us work the right way, respecting people’s rights, trying to decrease crime particularly in Belize City.”

One man under close scrutiny is Zetina’s counterpart, Hugh Cain who will direct operations. He is aware the public may be concerned that as a former colonel of the B.D.F. he will try to militarize the Police Department. He says this won’t happen but the police will be expected to follow proper procedure and respect citizens’ rights.

Hugh Cain, Assistant Commissioner

“We have to remind ourselves again that we are the good guys. I think public confidence has eroded because they have been finding it very difficult to differentiate who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. The reason for that is quite obvious. We have been accused of not informing the arresting person of his rights, illegal detention of individuals, forced confessions, illegal use of force and slow response to reported incidents. It’s time for us to go back to basics.

There will be a change in attitude in the Police Force. Right now we seem to be losing all. We will continue to go to court. We will continue to do the cycle of arrest, prosecution, leading to conviction. I want to remind you that we’re the good guys. The bad guys are always out there and our job is to go there and get them, but we do not have to break the law in doing so.

Right now we seem to be loosing a lot because of not following basic procedures or because of the rights of the accused have been violated by us. But that will change and that will change fast.”

Karla Heusner for News Five.

The Acting Commissioner says they will be reestablishing the anti-drug squad and other changes will be announced in the near future. Permanent Secretary Allan Usher says several of the recent cases dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for lack of evidence are already being re-examined to see how they can be salvaged. He says a comprehensive study of the Police Department was conducted and many of the recommendations will be adopted by the Ministry of National Security.

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