The Police Department launched its National policing strategy a couple of weeks ago. The commissioner of police announced certain measures that will be taken to tackle the issue of gang related crimes. One of those measures was termed as “Road Policing” and the establishment of more check points especially in Belize City. Complaints have begun as the implementation of the “road policing” is in full swing in Belize City. Several residents have complained that at check points, their personal information is being written down by police, while others say their pictures have been taken during regular stop and search even though nothing incriminating is found on them nor are they detained for any reason. One person who took her experience to a blog on social media is Attorney Lisa Shoman. She spoke to our colleagues at Krem today and shared her experience.
Attorney Lisa Shoman
I had an experience where I was stopped and asked for my drivers licensed; no problem. That is routine. Whenever I see a traffic stop I am prepared to give my drivers licensed but , what was different Marisol, what I had never seen occur was a clipboard on where there was a sheet of paper where all my details were being written down. And when I asked the officer what it was for, all he could tell me, [is that] that was for checks because they were ordered to show that they have been doing these things. And it wasn’t he that was making up the policy, and I said to him ‘yes, fine’ but what are you going to do with the information? He couldn’t tell me . I know that it may seem trivial to people but I am one of these people who are concerned about the fact that my personal, private information is going to be, either in some data base that I have no idea who has access to it, or that pieces of paper with my personal data will be floating around in some police station that anybody can have access to it. As a citizen I have a right to my privacy .There is no law that requires me to disclose my personal information to the police without more, in other words. If I am arrested and charged with anything, then yes, I am required to give my private personal information to the police. I can be finger printed and I can be photographed .
Shoman says that taking a person’s photograph on the road, even though there is no charge against that person, is against due process.
Attorney Lisa Shoman
The phenomenon of photographing a person on the road side when they are being questioned is relatively new. However long that has been going on there is a reason why you are not finger printed and photographed until after you are arrested .That reason is called “Due process “. The police has lawful authority to do certain things when it comes citizens and to carry out their function. But the police must do so with due process. So, for instance, you cannot be picked up and detained without being told why for longer than a certain period of time and, within 72 hours you must be taken before a magistrate. If you say you have a gang law for instance, and under that gang law you can photograph suspected gang members, you first of all have to pick up those persons and say to them ‘you are a suspected gang member and we are charging you for being a suspected gang member and we are going to take your picture’. But you simply can’t decide you are going to start take photographs of young black and Hispanic men on the street and putting it into a data base that doesn’t work and I would argue strenuously that even detention is no reason for photographing a citizen. The due process is that you are finger printed and photographed after you are charged.
Shoman says it is especially egregious when the person being photographed is a minor.
Attorney Lisa Shoman
When it is minors it’s even more egregious, as you know they’re are very clear rules and protocols when it comes to minors. Questioning minors and that is that it has to be done either in the presence of, or with the consent of a parent or guardians. And or if u can find those persons who are Justices of the Peace present. That is clear due process. So the report and photograph that I got was that minors, as far as the person could tell, were being stopped on the street, questioned by the police and then made to submit for photographs. Two of the young men did not resist. The third resisted in the way that I described in my article which is he turned his head down he turned his head away and when it seemed clear that he would not permit the police to take a photograph of him they made him get in the pan of the pick-up. I cannot tell you what happened after that. I am simply relating what happened up to that point.
Shoman says that she has been informed that the police are compiling a database, but a database is normally kept of persons who have been charged with a crime. She says that this new strategy of the police reeks of the Barrow Administrations early attempts at preventative detention back in 2008 which was railed against by citizens of Belize and eventually abandoned. Shoman encourages those who feel that their rights have been violated in the road policing initiative to report it to the Professional Standards Branch.