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Is the Leadership Intervention Unit Effective?

Aug 2, 2023

Is the Leadership Intervention Unit Effective?

How effective is the Leadership Intervention Unit in addressing the scourge of gang violence in Belize City?  It’s a question that is being asked in the wake of the recent spate of deadly shootings that resulted in a State of Emergency being declared in three south side neighborhoods last Friday.  Tonight, News Five’s Isani Cayetano takes a closer look at the criticisms against the L.I.U., as well as the firm position taken by proponents for its success.  Here is that story.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Established in 2021, as an initiative to address crime and violence in Belize City, the Leadership Intervention Unit has spent the last two years working closely with at-risk youths from various communities.  The program is the brainchild of the Ministry of Home Affairs.  It is part of what is described as a multi-sectoral approach to combating gang violence.  The effectiveness of the LIU, despite numerous attempts at curbing illegal activity involving young people, is being called to question.  Its biggest critic is the Leader of the Opposition.

Shyne Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

Shyne Barrow

“Obviously, the Leadership Intervention Unit is failing under the leadership of Kareem Musa.  It may be a noble idea but, depending on the leadership, it is not working.  We had our incarnation of such a body and the same minister criticized us, they said that we were paying off the gang members, we were just paying them to behave.”

The Leadership Intervention Unit employs a number of young men across the city on various campaigns, including community cleanups.  While it has worked favorably for those who are serious about reform, others have experienced a relapse.  In April of this year, Jermaine “Horse” Garnett was arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery in the south.  Before then, he was a stalwart of the program.

Kareem Musa

 File: April 12, 2023 – Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs

“He was one of the individuals that I employed on the work team, I think from the area of PIV, and so that was very disconcerting to learn.  And so, obviously, any individual that chooses to continue a life of crime, they cannot continue to be a part of the LIU program and so that is sort of the line that is drawn in the sand, that we are going to offer you educational, skills training opportunities, employment opportunities, any other type of services that we can provide.  But at the same time, there is that respect that you have to give back that we acknowledge that if we are to be a part of this program, we cannot then continue with a life of crime.  And so, there is certainly no rewarding any bad behavior or bad actors, anybody that is convicted or charged as part of a criminal offense cannot be a part of the LIU program.”

Several months later, Alexander Underwood finds himself in a peculiar situation.  He has also run afoul of the law, despite the rule of double jeopardy where an individual cannot be tried twice for the same offense based on the same conduct.  If he was charged once for being a member of a gang, did he subsequently renounce his membership?  Can he be charged a third time should law enforcement decide that he is still involved with gang activity?

File: July 26th, 2023 – Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police

Chester Williams

“If I were to go and question every gang member on the streets of Belize City, and ask them what their current gang affiliation is, you know what the answer is going to be?  “I have changed.”  And you wonder how they have changed but they still continue to commit crime.  So I don’t buy that, as much as yes, I would like to believe that Mr. Underwood is saying, his behavior has proven contrary.  Yes, there are some people who are out there and they give a front, and behind that front they’re committing crime and we cannot allow that to happen.”

Despite the commissioner’s misinformation about Underwood’s employment with LIU, check stubs prove that he was being paid by the program.  The question is whether he, like other members of LIU, was actually earning his keep.

Shyne Barrow

“I have no difficulty with helping people.  The difference between the UDP and the PUP, you use to have to work to collect that money.  They used to do some type of programs or activity in the communities and so, you know, alright, “you da di leader, you da di leader, gather di gentlemen and ladies and this is the assignment.”  And then yoh cohn collect yoh money.  That is not the case anymore.”

Of note is that under the existing program there have been initiatives to beautify the communities where these young men reside.  Notwithstanding those opportunities, a number of them have found themselves falling behind on their commitment to the program.

Chester Williams

“In any organization you go, you’ll find that there will be somebody who is not going to toe the line of their organization, it’s just human nature.  So the fact that we have persons who are a part of LIU who are not toeing the line or doing what is expected of them should not mean that the entire program is not good.  If the program saved one or two or three or four lives, it works.”

The recent State of Emergency has seen persons involved with the LIU also being rounded up and incarcerated.

Chester Williams

“The fact that we have detained some persons who are connected to LIU or who are a part of LIU, as a part of the SOE, it goes to show that being a member of LIU is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card because some might have that mentality that, “Oh, because I dah part a LIU, dehn cyant do me nothing.”  No, when you are a part of LIU, we expect that you are going to do things that are in line with LIU standards, and the minute you step out of that, then you must be sanctioned.  It’s as simple as that.”

Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.