The Belize Police Department exited last week with much egg on its face after insisting that 18-year-old Hilberto Sotz had died of natural causes while in their custody being questioned over a series of burglaries. The post-mortem examination on Sotz revealed trauma to his head clearly caused from a beating, flatly contradicting the police’s account of events. Angry residents of Caye Caulker faced down officers exactly one week ago tonight and reinforcements from outside the area had to be called in. Now the Department is aiming to regain the trust of residents by appointing a new commander. She is Inspector of Police Dehanne Augustine, and according to Public Relations Coordinator for Eastern Division Police, Douglas Hyde, she brings a unique set of skills to the job.
Douglas Hyde – PR Officer, Belize Police Department
“Last week, the OCED through the Commissioner of Police made the official change when it comes to the command there. Inspector Dehanne Augustine is now the OC of Caye Caulker and some couple police officers likewise have joined her and we are working on that whole changes in Caye Caulker. As you know we want to see better for the persons in the community of Caye Caulker. Miss Augustine as you know comes with vast experience of community policing and so the residents of Caye Caulker and the community can look forward to a lot of community meetings, dialogue and communication as she has already planned within her first thirty days of meeting with the community and working very closely. We are looking at physical changes likewise at the police station. We want to repaint it over and also make some changes in there so it can be more people friendly. Of course, it is a station and we want to work towards being more professional at that level.”
According to Hyde, the Department has cleared out several officers in an attempt at a fresh start. In addition to Hallet King and Leonard Nunez who are accused of Sotz’s murder, three other officers are on interdiction accused of failing to intervene. Hyde says the Department wants to change things from top to bottom on the island, including the atmosphere at the police station.
“The situation is a sad situation, we must say, and the department joins with the Commissioner in expressing our condolences. The residents can be assured that we want to do better within the police department and to become professional. So these changes is to better that relationship and also to look at the residents where we provide better service to them. So yes they can look forward to these positive changes. We already changed an amount of officers and have already replaced them likewise. Commissioner have sent a strong message to all police officers that we won’t it and we won’t accept police officers abusing their authority and their power. So yes, it is a message and we continue…as you know, the Professional Standards Branch continues to work on these everyday incidents or weekly incidents of abuse of power and authority by police officers.”
Hyde says Caye Caulker residents will benefit from some community policing programs to be introduced by Inspector Augustine.
“Last week before she travelled to Caye Caulker, Inspector Augustine already sat with us and she shared her concerns, specifically looking at some of the programs such as the G.R.E.A.T program, the youth cadets programs. We want to do some of the neighborhood watch too where we want to bring more of the residents of Caye Caulker involved. We are looking at programs such as Citizens On Patrol Program, C.O.P.P.S and train more citizens out there to be more involved in some of these community initiative with the police. “
Officially, Caye Caulker is subordinate to the Coastal Executive office based in San Pedro Town, one of the three subdivisions of Eastern Division in addition to Belize City and the mainland rural area headquartered in Ladyville.