Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte: “It is our priority to keep the community safe”

POSTED: 01/19/12 1:28 PM

St. Maarten / By Donellis Browne – The addition of 31 new officers from the BAVPOL program, 12 from the Basic Police Course and the addition of 14 police officers from the Netherlands is helping the police force of St. Maarten accomplish the goal of complying with its plan of approach. That document, which has 52 projects, includes a growth and improvement plan that requires the force to grow to a minimum strength of 389 officers by the end of 2016. At the moment the force has 246 staffers, up from the 189 officers they had when the plan’s implementation started. By March the total will hit 252, when the final six of 20 officers from the Netherlands arrive.

“We are far on the way but we are staying with it because it is priority number one to keep the community safe,” police Chief Peter de Witte said on Wednesday.

Numerical growth is not de Witte’s sole concern though. He wants the entire process to lead to a force that can be present on the street to provide security by being visible and responding quickly, contains expertise to deal with specific crime categories – financial crimes and cyber crimes – and that works with its partners to prevent that young people even get involved in crime. There will also be intensified contact with the Social Affairs Department, which is running projects to prevent young people from getting involved in crime.

“We want that the country becomes safer, because when you compare it with the other islands in the region it is relatively safe here. We all need to work with our heart. The focus is that our force must match the population and tourism growth. The mission is also definitely to work together with our partners to ensure that especially young people do not get involved in crime,” de Witte said.

The police chief has also stressed that the new additions to the force are being thoroughly vetted to ensure that there are quality officers in the uniforms. This in response to a question on whether the force is adding new members just to meet targets.

“All police officers are screened and have come through psychological testing and background checks. We’re not breaking away from our quality standards just to get more people. You can see that in the fact that not everybody who signs up for our courses ends up in uniform,” the police chief said.

The addition of more officers in 2011 and yet more in 2012 will help the police put more focus on community policing. This focus will include establishing relationships with the community councils and building four substations. The development of the community policing is still very much in planning.

Improving the capacity of the current and incoming officers is also a key part of the growth and improvement plan. That will also be a strong focus in 2012 when the management will offer officers several courses. For example all officers will have to take investigation courses so that there is a basic level across the force.

Support of the officers is also growing with the hiring of five staff officers that will oversee the various divisions. There are also more career options being opened so that officers can continue to grow through the organizations.

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