Meeting to set up Neighborhood Watch ends with two possible anti-crime groups on North Ambergris Caye

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This police booth was built in a day back when the North Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch was active. It has recently been moved to the paved road and Grand Caribe Resort has offered to help restore it to functional use. Revival of a north island Neighborhood Watch is a big part of the island discussion after a meeting on Tuesday night.
This police booth was built in a day back when the North Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch was active. It has recently been moved to the paved road and Grand Caribe Resort has offered to help restore it to functional use. Revival of a north island Neighborhood Watch is a big part of the island discussion after a People’s Coalition Committee meeting on Tuesday night.

The rising number of burglaries and thefts north of the bridge has moved San Pedro police and government officials, residents, business owners and others to seek a way to jump-start the dormant North Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch crime prevention group.

As many as 30 concerned citizens met at the El Pescador resort and came away reviving, not one. but two crime-prevention organizations for the nearly 20 miles of island extending north of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge.

Both Neighborhood Watch groups have apparently enjoyed active and successful pasts over the last decade or so, and for reasons not completely apparent last night, both went dormant. Importantly, both retained membership mailing lists and institutional memories of successes and failures in running volunteer crime prevention groups.

Representatives from both groups expressed enthusiasm about reviving their organizations, and reluctance about merging into a single north island Neighborhood Watch. Fortunately for the long and narrow island, they would not overlap responsibilities.

One group would maintain responsibility over the area from the bridge to Mata Grande grocery store. The second would keep watch over the island to the north of the store, possibly as far as the northernmost island resorts, around Mexico Rocks. Jan Van Nord, owner of Portofino Resort, spearheads what is called the Middle Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch. Rob Eykelbeysh of Marbucks coffeeshop and Daydreamin’ Bed & Breakfast was pressed into leadership of the other group last night.

Both groups — and any citizens interested in public safety — will meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Marbucks to figure out the next steps. (The original post inadvertently gave the wrong time for the meeting. Blogger’s error. My apologies.) 

And they will not be easy ones.

Lots of work needs to be done in the areas of education, membership, communication and fund-raising.

Peter Nolan, who is president of the extremely successful South Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch, talked last night about the lean seven years the organization spent slowly building into a public citizen institution for the land south of San Pedro Town. They now have a $150,000 annual security budget, employ five trained security personnel and plan to add more. They work closely with the Police Department and the town’s Transportation Police.

The southern group gained even more visibility recently when its security people identified a boat carrying several men, drugs and weapons as it landed in their area. Police quickly responded. The teamwork involved in theses arrests is being highlighted as classic citizen-police teamwork to keep an area safe and crime free.

Lately, the frequency of break-ins — eight at one resort alone and several private homes — has heightened concern to the north where population and development are facing an explosion, thanks in part to the eight miles of navigable road constructed by the town in the last two years.

High level police officials at the meeting last night acknowledged that they can’t police the entire island successfully without citizen cooperation. They expressed an eagerness to see the Neighborhood Watch groups revived and pledged maximum cooperation.

Mayor Daniel Guerrero outlined the challenges in growth and crime facing the island last night. He also provided a much-needed island-wide perspective. Crime to the north and south gets the press but it happens in all the residential areas. He outlined the towns plans for adding police substations into residential neighborhoods including San Mateo and San Pedrito, as well as supplying the police department with more motorcycles, which he sees as the island’s “quick response” vehicles.

All of San Pedro works extremely hard to create an attractive and welcoming place four tourism, the islands most lucrative industry, but it takes only one criminal to undo the hard work, the mayor warned, adding an additional sense of urgency to the gathering.

Will a revival of Neighborhood Watch succeed north of the bridge?

That of course is the question everyone was thinking last night.

A few things are different this time around that may help ensure the survival and flourishing of the citizen group.

  • The reactivation of Neighborhood Watch is being spearheaded by a new citizen organization called the People’s Coalition Committee, made up of island movers and shakers. Similar groups on the Mainland have succeeded in raising up, nurturing and prodding citizen anti-crime groups into existence. They provide an essential support system during the “incubation” period as the volunteer groups seek to gain a footing.
  • Presumably the PCC will play a similar role in starting citizen crime fighting groups in the island’s neediest neighborhoods, as well. The group’s motto: “We stand together. We protect each other.” speaks to an island-wide effort.
  • The success of the South Ambergris Caye Neighborhood Watch provides a role-model and a history that citizens are already aware of.  Nolan offered the services of the South group in advising on process, organization, fund-raising, goals, police-citizen relationships, and more.
  • The relationship of the Police Department, an agency run by the country, and the residents is evolving in a most-positive direction. The Police are engaging in more citizen outreach and the improved professionalism of the department is engendering confidence on the part of the public.

The Neighborhood Watch’s biggest challenges will be getting enough people to step up and make it happen and getting enough people to forget about the past and put the greater good of the whole community first.

Saturday’s brief but crucial meeting could set the tone for the future of public safety north of the bridge.

 

 

 

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