Belize’s Crime and Economy: a tumultuous relationship

Posted: Monday, December 21st, 2015. 12:18 p.m. CST

crime in belize articleBy BMG Staff: Violence and crime, in any form: assault, robbery, or murder, costs money. The greater or more frequent the crime, the greater and more frequent the expense.

Large economic powers invest millions on weapons and arms and spend millions more going to war. Watch any mob movie and you’ll know, going to war is an expensive luxury and it’s bad for business.

And while small developing nations cannot afford to waste precious little resources on that level of security, neither can it afford to let local violence and crime jeopardize its economic stability and prospects, which it does.

Last year Belize recorded 121 murders, 42 rapes, 294 robberies, 821 burglaries and 1,192 thefts. In comparison, of the crimes committed there were only 34 arrests for murder, 27 rape arrests, 118 robbery arrests, 217 burglary arrests, and 220 theft arrests. All together, of the 2,548 crimes recorded last year there were 651 arrests. That’s a 25 percent arrest rate and that does not include conviction rate. Just for context, Belize’s murder conviction rate stands at 7 percent; wrap your head around that.

Earlier this year, however, the police department reported that major crime was trending down but there were several spikes of violence over the last few months which saw several murders and murder attempts. The police department has also employed a renewed focus on community policing which, at least for now, seems to have had some impact on neighborhoods plagued by violence and crime.

This is not to say the police department has become any more efficient as yet, however, the department’s efforts to humanize the police force through outreach and mediation work and the consistency with which it has employed this strategy has, in fact, been able to garner more success and public cooperation than its previous aggressive, no-nonsense strategies.

Crime, however, persists and the correlation between crime and economic prosperity is a complicated one. Criminologists say bad economies create more crime; economists say crime creates bad economies but either way the two are inextricably linked.

Criminologists tend to say that tough economic times make more people willing to commit crimes. Bad economies lead to more property crimes and robberies as criminals steal coveted items they cannot afford. The economic anxiety of bad times leads to more domestic violence and greater consumption of mind-altering substances, leading to more violence in general.

Economists tend to argue the opposite, that better economic times increase crime. More people are out and about flashing their shiny new smartphones and tablets, more new cars sit unattended in parking lots, and there are more big-screen TVs in homes to steal. Better economic times also mean more demand for drugs and alcohol, and the attendant violence that often accompanies their consumption.

Either way, the presence of crime has hurt the country’s and on a wider scale the region’s, international image and has had may direct and indirect impacts on the economy. Criminal activity acts like a tax on the entire economy: it discourages domestic and foreign direct investments, it reduces firms’ competitiveness, and reallocates resources creating uncertainty and inefficiency, it also discourages tourists from visiting the country.

The United Nations Development Programme, in 2012, conducted a survey — New Dimensions of Human Security — on crimes in the Caribbean and found that 8.5 percent of the global population resides in Latin America and the Caribbean, yet 27 percent of the world’s murders take place in this region.

A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report from 2012 indicated that crime does peak during periods of economic crises.  Using data recorded by police in 15 countries on the incidence of robbery, homicide and car theft, the report focuses on the possible effects of economic stress, in particular during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.  In 8 of 11 countries undergoing economic upheavals, a link between economic factors and crime could be clearly established. During periods of economic stress, the incidence of robbery may double, and homicide and motor vehicle theft also increase, according to the report.

Over the last three years, crime in Belize has fluctuated, peaking in 2012 with 2,772 total crimes then dipping to 2,395 total recorded crimes in 2013 before rising again to 2,548 total recorded crimes in 2014. The official statistics for 2015 aren’t out yet but Minister of National Security recently said the total number of majore crime is somewhere around 2,200; still in the vicinity of statistics years previous. On the other hand, number of arrests have shown a consistent downward trend: 849 arrests in 2012, 769 in 2013 and 651 in 2014.

Even more worrisome is the fact that several of the country’s major industries are suffering and the economy is taking direct hits as a result. Sugar, banana, citrus, and shrimp have all suffered significant losses for varying reasons this year and now with the pending outcome of the introduction of Guyanese rice into the Belizean market, many fear the domestic rice industry will suffer similar losses.

Also add to the fact factors like government’s unprecedented levels of continued borrowing, the growing external debt, the repayment of the over $500 million PetroCaribe loan (payments start in 2016), the instability of that program considering a political and ideological shift in Venezuela’s congress, the stagnant private sector and this list can probably go on and on.

Cost of living hasn’t gone down, in fact quite contrary. Belizeans continue to pay mysteriously exorbitant prices on goods and services far more affordable in other countries in the region. Minimum wage hasn’t been raised and the majority of the country’s workforce is made up of unskilled laborers. The education system hasn’t seen much improvement in terms of results either.

Indeed, the country and its leaders has many factors to consider. The police department’s focus on community policing and relationship building with the public needs to remain consistent. Also, the bad eggs need to weeded out of the department. The public needs to commit to being as much a part of ensuring public safety as officers of the law by doing their civic duty to assist in investigations. The judicial systems needs an overhaul. Of course, these things are easier said than done.

The government needs to put a renewed effort in developing policies to improve Belize’s economic climate, ensuring growth, not just for the public sector but for the private sector. More jobs and opportunities need to be created but through sustainable means.

Again, these things are easier said than done but if all the relevant partners commit themselves to a cause Belize can see boosts to its economic development while curbing crime and making citizens as well as foreigners feel confident in investing in the country.

© 2015, This article is the copyrighted property of Breaking Belize News. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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