Posted: Wednesday, February 7, 2018. 1:17 p.m. CST.
By Lisa Shoman: This morning at about 9.30 am, on Barrack Road I encountered Police Officers doing a traffic stop and checking Driver’s Licenses and Vehicle Insurance and License. Routine, right?
The Officer on my side asked for my driver’s license, and I gave it to him without hesitation. Then I noticed he was writing down my personal information (my name, address and license number) on a sheet of paper which clearly already had a list of other persons’ information.
I immediately informed him that he had no reason at all for writing down my personal information, and no reasonable cause to do so.
The Officer politely advised me that he was just following orders. I again insisted that he had no reason for documenting my movement and he informed me that the reason he was not conducting a ” stop and search” is that he knew very well that he had no reasonable cause to do so.
I told the Officer that what he was doing was not right, but that I knew that the policy he was being asked to implement was not of his making. We pleasantly wished each other a good day, and I left.
If this is a part of the Belize Police Department’s National Crime Fighting Strategy 2018-2020, it is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the power of the Police to stop citizens and collect their personal information.
The Belize Police Department saying that they “will intensify operations aimed at disarming criminals, intensify spot checks and vehicular checkpoints, traffic control, and stop and searches in particular sections/zones. Also, road policing will be done to curtail the movement of criminals, to seriously disrupt criminal activities, and to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of crime and violence.”
I am not a criminal and stopping me, in order to do “road policing” of any sort is unlawful.
Although the Police Officer today was carrying out the order he was given, he could not tell me what gave him the right to collect the information he is required to write down and turn in.
The Police does not have a right to know where you are going, nor to collect and write down your personal information. And in an age where identity theft is all too real, even Driver’s License information needs to be properly safeguarded.
I have no knowledge of why the Belize Police Department is collecting the personal information of any law abiding citizen and how (if at all) it will be kept private and secure.
I think the next time this happens – I will refuse to permit my personal information to be written down by the Police Officer. They are entitled to inspect my license to ensure the it is current. They are not entitled to write down my personal information for no lawful reason. If they CAN provide me with a LAWFUL reason, I will permit it.
This will probably cost me a hassle of some sort and maybe problems, but so be it. It must stop.
I am under no illusion as to the fact that I can claim, as a lawyer, former public servant and a public figure in Belize, a certain amount of privilege. I will never face the type of hassle that young men in Belize face daily, who look a certain way, ride bikes or walk and carry a backpack or are dressed or wear their hair a certain way.
I am well aware that some youth in our nation face unlawful stops and searches whether there is reasonable cause or not, their rights are trampled, and their images taken and placed in a database without any lawful cause. This happens hourly and daily, and it must be stopped. Unless someone stands up, it won’t end.
Criminalizing our youth won’t stop crime. Treating them as “un-indicted felons” won’t achieve the stated goals of the Commissioner of Police of the “reduction of murders and gang violence in Belize City and across the country; prevention, interdiction and successful prosecution of criminals, and the restoration of public confidence.”
I am waiting to see the “The National Crime Fighting Strategy” which purportedly “is packed with changes which we think you would want to take a look at”. When it is posted on the Police Department’s website, I will re-post and comment.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
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