SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – The Law Enforcement Council (“the Council”) in its recently published 2018 State of Law Enforcement noted that there is certainly a willingness to rebuild the law enforcement sector in St. Maarten. However, as a result of the financial situation of the country, Government has not been able to structurally strengthen law enforcement as yet. Despite this, there is still attention for law enforcement.
During the reconstruction, steps have been made in the right direction, the Council stated in a press release on Tuesday, August 6. The key issues in 2018 for law enforcement were strengthening Sint Maarten’s border security, the severe problems at the Pointe Blanche prison and detention center, and the closure of the Miss Lalie Center.
The Council is tasked each year with providing the Sint Maarten Minister of Justice with a report regarding the State of Law Enforcement in Sint Maarten (“the State”), based on inspections carried out in the previous year. The State also provides an overview of the developments that had the most impact on law enforcement in Sint Maarten in that year. The report is presented directly to Parliament. Reflecting upon the year 2018, the Council in its press release highlighted a few of the topics discussed in the 2018 State of Law Enforcement.
2018: the year of recovery
During its inspections in the year 2018, the Council again observed great involvement and responsibility on the part of the employees of the various law enforcement agencies. The year 2018 was a year of recovery for Sint Maarten, also as it pertains to law enforcement. The Council showed understanding for the situation in which the country, and by extension law enforcement, has been finding itself in after the hurricanes of 2017.
Strengthening Border Security
In the context of reconstructing the country, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands in 2018 reached an agreement regarding strengthening border security in Sint Maarten for people and goods. This agreement was formalized in the Mutual Arrangement on Strengthening Border Security (“Onderlinge regeling versterking grenstoezicht”). One of the goals of this Mutual Arrangement is to prevent cross-border crime. The influx of illegal migrant workers and cross-border crime such as human trafficking and human smuggling form a threat to Sint Maarten. In 2018, the focus of the justice sector has been on these types of crime as well.
For years the Council has been raising awareness for (the lack of) victim support services and reiterating its importance to society. The Council concluded that there was no structural victim support effort in 2018 either. The Council believes this has affected and continues to affect the level of information and assistance provided to victims, their willingness to file reports with the police, and their confidence in law enforcement. Moreover, sheltering victims remains problematic.
Pointe Blanche prison and remand center
The Council has observed that the Sint Maarten Police Force (KPSM) has developed in the desired direction. The Pointe Blanche prison, however, remains behind with regard to living up to (inter)national minimum requirements. In 2018 the Council even had to conclude that the prison was unsuitable as a work environment as well as for detention. The Council once again emphasized the importance of dealing with serious issues regarding detention in a structural manner as soon as possible. The Council also noted in this context the collective responsibility of Government to set priorities – such as in the budget – and to provide for accompanying realistic planning. This applies to all serious problems within the justice sector.
Juvenile Rehabilitation: Miss Lalie Center (MLC)
Because of the hurricanes, Sint Maarten lost its juvenile rehabilitation center in 2018. The MLC has not been operational since September 2017. This means that juveniles who committed an (often serious) offense spent a few days, at most, at the police station’s cell complex, after which they had to be sent away because of the lack of sufficient detention facilities for juveniles. In addition, ankle monitors were temporarily unavailable. The MLC’s shutdown meant a loss of a critical final element in the fight against juvenile delinquency. This situation also had immediate consequences for the performance of the juvenile rehabilitation and (non-)intervention tasks of the Court of Guardianship. The Council expressed worries about the youth, the overall public safety, and the wrong signal that was sent by law enforcement: that they could not adequately respond to criminal conduct by juveniles.
In the second half of 2018, steps were taken to rebuild the MLC. It will now take much effort to correct the wrong impression given to the youth. In this regard, the Council emphasized the importance of reopening the MLC as soon as possible. To this date the juvenile rehabilitation center still has not reopened.
Attention for other organizations
The Council noticed that at the moment most attention is being paid to two specific organizations within the justice sector, namely the police force and the prison, while there are significant problems in other organizations as well. These organizations lack necessities such as housing, staff and resources. According to the Council, these organizations should receive the same attention and support from Government, especially considering the fact that together, the organizations constitute law enforcement and as such one cannot function without the other. The Council is asking authorities to pay urgent attention to this aspect, emphasizing that the other organizations cannot stay behind in the prioritization. The conclusion of the Council in 2017 in this regard remained the same in 2018, namely: Keep giving the well-deserved and necessary attention to the organizations within the justice sector that strive on a daily basis to keep our community safe. There is still a lot to be done.
Cooperation and assistance
Lastly, the Council stated that it was pleased that law enforcement in 2018 was characterized by cooperation and assistance. This was visible within and between the judicial organizations on an (inter)island level, as well as on a Kingdom level. The Council has often cited the benefits of working together, that is why it can only praise and encourage everyone involved in this development. This all to the benefit of law enforcement, stated the Council which will continue to keep a keen eye on this and all other developments within the justice sector.
The State of Law Enforcement 2018 and all other reports can be found on www.raadrechtshandhaving.com or http://rrh-sxm.org.