Opinion: Honest report of the Public Prosecutor

POSTED: 06/14/14 12:20 AM

The Public Prosecutor’s Office is sober but honest in its 2013 annual report. This is not a look-how-good-we-are production but a realistic assessment of the challenges the prosecutor’s office has to deal with.

The good news is obviously that the number of suspects that were locked up last year is on the decline. At the same time, there is an increase in the number of cases that are brought to the attention of the prosecutor’s office, while – remarkable enough – the police report that it gets fewer cases to deal with. The prosecutor’s office would have loved to get more cases on its plate, but that did not happen.

In both instances there is, according to the report, the effect of community policing. This approach had brought the police closer to the population it serves, and it has apparently already in 2013 resulted in a decline in the crime figures.

But as we all know, not everything is rosy in law enforcement land. When the interim chief prosecutor arrived last year, he found a situation we would describe as a mess. Of course, those exact words are not used in the annual report. But if dossiers are left behind in cupboards “without owner” – meaning that nobody is responsible for them – what else would one have to call it?

It gives us the impression that not all prosecutors are as committed as they ought to be – otherwise they would transfer their dossiers before departure properly to colleagues, or the chief prosecutor would see to it that this happens. But no, prosecutors left and dropped the ball, literally.

There is no point linking such organization-failures to individuals. They are gone anyway, and the positive point is that the prosecutor’s office reports the facts about its own organization as they are. That can only lead to a better future wherein dossiers are no longer left to their own devices after someone leaves the service.

Another interesting topic in this report is about the cooperation with American law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). During several court cases, it has come to light that American agents are operating within the territory of St. Maarten. So far, nobody but the odd lawyer has made a problem of this.

The thing is that the American legal system and the work methods of its law enforcement agencies differ starkly from what is legal in St. Maarten. Therefore it is good to know that the Americans have been briefed about the inner workings of our BOB-legislation – the law that contains the rules for special investigation methods. This way, everybody is – or should be – on the same page.

Doing things the American way in St. Maarten is simply not allowed. Provoking crimes through so-called sting operations are common practice in the States but they would never pass muster in our courts of law.

Cooperation with the French-side law enforcement and judicial authorities is also a positive point. A joint database for car thefts sounds like a good idea, but it will not be enough. Adding a detailed map of all the hot spots on the island where criminals strip stolen cars would be helpful. There are only that many places to hide and once they have been charted, it may become easier to find back stolen property.

As things stand now, owners of stolen cars have little expectations of finding their wheels back. The car-stripping business is all about speed, so before someone has reported a stolen car, the thieves probably have already processed their catch. Against those practices, a joint database will not do much – but anything is better than nothing at all.

 

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