By Michael Rudon Jr.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Miguel Segura is the new Officer Commanding Eastern Division, or OCED.
That makes him the Belize District’s top cop holding overall responsibility for the Rural and Coastal formations. He is assisted in his command by two veteran officers, Senior Superintendents Desiree Phillips and Marlon Allen, but the position is a big one with major responsibilities.
Segura took over that command on January 14th, and it might well be an understatement to say that his tour of duty comes at perhaps the most challenging time in the nation’s history, as far as crime is concerned.
Today The Reporter spoke to Segura in his office at the Raccoon Street Police Station to talk about challenges, plans and possible solutions.
According to ACP Segura, one of the biggest challenges he faces in his command is internal, rather than external, and stems from what he calls ‘the economics of being a policeman in the city.’
Officers who are asked to perform above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis are not being appreciated, so to speak, for the work they are doing. The ACP spoke of many instances where officers have to travel to Belize City, work long hours and then stand on the road for hours trying to find a ride home.
“This affects morale, performance, alertness and response, and my immediate challenge is to find a way to motivate them, to instill passion in them,” Segura said.
Currently the one facility in the city which can serve as barracks for officers during down-time is inadequate. So are the ‘barracks’ found in the rural and coastal formations.
In addition, there is of course the question of compensation and allowances. Currently other enforcement branches of the Government like the Customs Department and the Immigration Department are paid overtime, while Police officers do not receive overtime, and in fact many times have trouble collecting allowances due them.
Investigating a story a few weeks ago in San Pedro, The Reporter was informed that there are officers who were transferred to the island and served over a year without receiving the transfer grant due to them upon their move.
Some of those officers were in the process of being transferred to other stations on the mainland, still without the grant from their previous transfer.
ACP Segura has a plan to deal with those issues, which starts with consulting with officers and finding out their concerns.
At that point, he told us, he will do everything possible within his command to address those concerns, and to go above his head if it becomes necessary.
“In fighting crime, we can’t expect what we need to come from outside. The quality will come from our people, so we need to do everything necessary to create and enhance that quality,” he said.
And that is where training will be essential, confirmed the ACP, who bluntly stated – “Garbage in… garbage out.”
Whenever there is a surge of highly visible crime, or a public outcry, the government’s first response to mollify the people is always – We will put more boots on the ground. But according to Segura, it is not only about putting boots on the ground, but about ensuring that from the recruitment level there is quality, enhanced by intensive training, at every stage.
This will include revisiting the curriculum and focus areas at the Training Academy. And it doesn’t stop there. Segura says he has already identified a training location and assistance in areas like social and development skills.
“My challenge is to change the image of the Police Department, and our officers must be given the tools and skills to do so during any community interaction, and even during contact with the criminal element.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Miguel Segura, Officer Commanding the Easter Division is confident that with the right plan, and right approach, there can be a positive change, and in a relatively short time. But ever pragmatic, he willingly admits that he cannot do it alone. In summing up his mission and new command, Segura says – “I came here to build on what works, and to change what doesn’t.”
Various media houses have agreed that the murder count for the year 2012 stands at 145, a new record, though certainly not one to be applauded. Official reports show slightly less murders, perhaps attributable to a new classification of ‘sudden death’ found on Police Situation Reports disseminated to the public. A recent release by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry states – “Despite official claims to the contrary, crime is escalating, not regressing….
We call on the government to take immediate and serious measures, given the gravity of the situation.”
Segura said that what we are seeing right now is a result of a systemic breakdown of social factors across the board. And the problem which was not created overnight will not be fixed overnight.
According to Segura, the first step will be analysis. “We need to get an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground, an analysis of the relationship and alliances of criminal figures.” That analysis will then determine where resources will be allocated, and the priorities of that allocation.
Segura broke it down further, stating that the intention is for the Police to go out into the communities and salvage what is left.
“We will be looking at direct intervention, that is, going out and implementing programs targeting vulnerable youths who can still be saved, and adults who genuinely want to see a positive change in the community.”
As for those who cannot be saved… Segura related an anecdote about a prison in Italy where members of organized crime are locked up in isolation, far from society.
“Those who can be saved will be saved, and those who can’t will be sent away where they cannot impact the communities,” Segura told us.
When asked about the relative quiet on the streets since the slaying of four George Street Gang affiliates, Segura told us that he believes that the gangs are in a ‘reflecting’ mode after the murders and what some say was a message sent by an unknown entity.
And the entry into the game of that entity has put things on pause, so to speak. But how long it will last is anybody’s guess, Segura said, and that is why the Police have not relaxed their vigilance and have put operations in place on the streets in certain targeted areas.
Dealing with gangs will not be an overnight fix, since they have elevated themselves from Tier 1 status to Tier 3 status. Tier 1 refers to the gangs getting started by establishing their turf. Tier 2 refers to the gangs expanding and creating alliances and Tier 3 refers to the gangs crossing borders and engaging in trans-national activities with other cartels.
And other challenges which are faced everyday..?
“Where is the will,” responded Segura. “Where is the Financial Intelligence Unit which should be working to take the money out of crime, investigating sudden unexplained wealth displayed by those affiliated with these gangs and other criminals?”
He says it will have to be a collaborative effort, and one major player will be the Office of the DPP. The problem there is that the DPP’s Office is under-staffed and under-resourced and lawyers in private practice can make on one case what attorneys in the DPP’s Office make in a year.
The Reporter took the opportunity to ask Segura about the supposedly high-tech cameras which were put up around the city but which are never working when criminal activities occur in their vicinity.
He was frank, stating that the problem comes from purchasing equipment without consulting the experts first. “If I want to become a journalist,” said Segura, “then I would go out and speak to a trained and experienced journalist before I do anything.”
Because there is no research on quality, impact, placement or maintenance the Department often ends up with a white elephant which serves absolutely no purpose. Segura says that they will work to make cameras already in their possession functional, since he believes they are helpful to crime fighting.
Segura says that it will take a major effort to halt and repair what he calls a systemic breakdown, but he is confident that the correct steps are being taken to get it done. Those concrete steps and new initiatives will be provided in greater detail in the next couple of weeks.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Miguel Segura has been a member of the Belize Police Department for twenty-five years. He has served in various capacities at the Crimes Investigation Branch (CIB), the Serious Crimes Branch, the Anti-Money Laundering Unit, the Joint Intelligence Coordination Center (JICC), the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU), the Community Policing Unit and as head of the National Crimes Investigation Unit. He has also served as Officer Commanding the Orange Walk Police Formation and Deputy Officer Commanding the Eastern Division.