Lack of funding could set law enforcement back ten years

POSTED: 12/11/13 6:41 PM

St. Maarten – “The Council for Law Enforcement said that we are on the right path. They helped us to see things clearly. We were watched, but we were glad that we were watched,” said Denise Jacobs, the head of the detective department at the police force in yesterday’s Central Committee meeting. On the agenda were reports from the Council for Law enforcement about the complaint-filing process, assistance to crime victims, youth rehabilitation and the process of investigating crime. The police force has made progress but lack of funding could hamper this process, Jacobs made clear.

Jacobs said that filing a complaint is a legal procedure that should give citizens the feeling that somebody cares about their problem. The police is in the process of improving its intake and service process, but while improvements are in the works, Jacobs noted repeatedly that the police “is not where it wants to be yet.”

“We trained twenty people to intake and service, but when the immigration task went to IND, many of them left the police force. As a result we now have just a few people that are trained for intake and service.”

The police force has seven candidates lined up but due to budget restraints it is only able to train three of them. “We need funding for the training,” Jacobs said, “Otherwise it has to stop.”

The process of investigating crime has improved. “We are working based on information,” Jacobs explained. “To be able to do this we have to restructure our organization.”

Specialism have to be put in place, the fingerprint and DNA databases need to be linked to those of the other countries in the Kingdom. “Crime is transnational,” Jacobs explained. “The ministers of justice are working on combining these databases.”

The police force has plans for the construction of a police laboratory next year.

Jacobs said that crime has gone down drastically during the past couple of years. She compared the murder rate of 2011 (18) with the current figures for 2013 (3) and noted a decrease in reported burglaries from 667 to 336 over the same period. “We have had fewer than 100 armed robberies, compared to more than 300 a few years ago. All this is due to combining information and using our people more effectively. In the past, sometimes just one officer was working on a murder case. Now we put a team on it and the success rate has increased.”

Jacobs emphasized the importance of international contacts and referred to St. Maarten’s membership of Interpol. “That enables us to do training on-line, also with other countries.”

Apart from the international cross border crime, the police also keep an eye on what happens locally. “We see social problems, we encounter sex crimes. We also want to handle crimes that seem small, but that are a big issue to the victims. But if we do not get the financial means, we’ll fall back to where we were ten years ago.”

Richelda Emmanuel, director of the Court of Guardianship addressed the assistance of crime victims and youth rehabilitation. “There is no central office for assisting crime victims. We researched the possibility to establish one and to have clear procedure. We’d open such an office if the 2014 budget allows.” Emmanuel said that the idea is to bring assistance for victims of all sorts of crimes under one roof.

Youth rehabilitation is a thorny issue. “It is a specialism and we do not have any specialized employee to do the work,” Emmanuel said. “We look at community service, we make sure youngsters go back to school. Electronic supervision with an ankle bracelet is not available to us and there is no institution for the rehabilitation of youngsters.”

Emmanuel said that there is a group of 13 to 17 years old who need to be in such an institution. “But it is not available, though there are special cells for them at the police station. We offer guidance when they are released.”

Emmanuel referred to the plans to establish a youth center in Cay Bay. “The facility itself is not everything, you also need the correct staff,” she said.

Minister Dennis Richardson said that in the 2014 budget the justice department has to put up with major cuts. “Achieving our goals depends on the financial possibilities,” he pointed out. “If we have a balanced budget we will have access to loans for investments.”

Later the minister said that the country does have a Border Management system, but that it is currently stand-alone, because it is not hooked up to the regional system. “That is not St. Maarten’s fault,” he explained. There was a conflict between the former Minister of Justice Duncan and the Dutch Justice Minister. Duncan considered the costs of the system too high and that St. Maarten would go it alone. That is when we were disconnected.” Richardson said that by February of next year St. Maarten’s border management system will be hooked up to the regional system again. “What disturbs me,” the minister concluded, “is that we are always getting licks for having a different opinion.” He said that the level of law enforcement in St. Maarten has never been better than during the past three years.

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