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Legal eagles clash over police profiling

Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2019. 3:19 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Belize Police Department and Attorney General’s Ministry are bracing themselves for a potential constitutional challenge over the right of Police to photograph persons they stop and search on the street.

 Youths in marginalized communities in Belize, whether law-abiding or otherwise, go through what is known as “profiling” – being stopped, searched, their information and photographs stored in the Department’s files.

Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte conceded this week that if the law is silent on this, police can proceed in the interest of the public unless challenged.

  “If [Commissioner of Police Chester Williams] believes that there is no law that prevents him from doing that and if he believes that is the best way to fight crime then he should proceed. Then if someone wants to challenge him, anyone has access to the court to challenge him. All I know is that within the law, our law does not allow for profiling doesn’t allow for detention except if it is a case of emergency. It does not allow for pictures to be taken of a person, information to be taken from a person if that person is not arrested and charged. If you decide to charge an individual then the law states clearly that that individual is to be fingerprinted and photos to be taken. It doesn’t make any provision that you are allowed to do that before a person is charged. The Commissioner can easily say, well, there isn’t any provision that says you can’t do that. So maybe that is the procedure he is following. I would think that the police do not have the power to simply stop any and everybody they want for no reason whatsoever and take their picture.”

Back in March of 2018, the A.G. announced plans, later abandoned, to write a Cabinet paper outlining the legal position on the matter.

He told KREM Television News then that apart from when they actually charge and process someone, police cannot simply stop someone and demand they submit to profiling. But if they have a reasonable belief that someone is guilty of or about to commit a crime, or has drugs or weapons in their possession, it is their duty to stop them.

 He also noted that police should destroy photographs and fingerprints of any persons found legally innocent of a crime, deploring the fact that some mugshots still make it to the TV airwaves.

But in a recent appearance on KREM’s morning show, the Commissioner defended the practice as useful to police and suggested it would have to be decided in court: “It’s a very sticky or gray area. We have a number of young people running around and committing crimes and the Police need to be able to have some record of these people, and we only try to do for those persons that we know have been convicted of crime. I know that some lawyers have looked at it and see it as a constitutional issue; I also see it as that, to some extent. I have said to an attorney once, ‘If it is that you believe that what the Police is doing is wrong, then I would appreciate if you can take the matter to court, and let the court decide on it, because it is a constitutional issue.’”

An attorney himself, Williams says police are limited to photograph only known criminals and their associates and not ordinary people.


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