When I hear of the many cases of crime in San Pedro I think of my little San Pedro twenty five years ago when those crimes were alien to our peaceful and safe community. When I hear of our police force with about twenty strong officers, I think of our lovely little San Pedro 25 years ago when all that was needed was one police officer, who spent most of the day fishing because there was nothing to do at the police station simply because there was nothing wrong going on.
Indeed, today a lot of people see the police as enemy, when in the past the officer was everybody’s friend. I spent a lot of my spare time, especially on Saturdays, fishing with the police office whose name was Mr. Hope. A lot of folks remember Policeman Hope with his terrible, but funny, accent trying to speak Spanish.
Indeed 25 years ago there was only one officer stationed in San Pedro. Generally speaking, a lot of children were afraid of the policeman and for several reasons. First of all he rang the bell every night at 8 p.m. warning all school children to keep off the streets. If a child was caught on the street after the 8 o’clock curfew, the police officer had the authority to whip that child. Every morning after the 8 o’clock school bell was rung, the police officer also took a stroll around the village, and any child on the street would be taken to school. The child could be whipped by the principal or the policeman and the parents could be fined 25 cents for that offense.
The police officer also reprimanded us for such things as cursing on the streets, breaking bottles with sling shots, stealing guavas or plums from neighbors, or for intentionally fishing for sea gulls or frigates along the beach. These were some of the minor mischiefs of children in the village 25 years ago. If we teased an old man or tangled our kites on the few electric poles and lines, the officer also had a reason to reprimand or whip us. And did any father have the right to question the police officer for such action? I would say even this question is absurd. No wonder children were so well mannered and disciplined 25 years ago.
The duties of the policeman were varied and almost unlimited. He was the most powerful man in the village, perhaps even more powerful than the “alcalde” or village council chairman. He was in charge of the police station; he was a street patrolman, an education officer, an immigration officer too. He registered all births and issued death certificates. If you wanted to kill your hog or pig and sell the meat, you had to inform him to check and inspect the animal, and in that sense he was health officer as well.
The single police officer in the village patrolled the seas for illegal fishing. He was custom officer and gave permits for importation of Mexican beer, etc. He had to be informed of dances, carnival activities and the lighting of fires in the village. He was, as you can see, the sole authority in San Pedro.
Did San Pedro need more than one officer? Really and truly, no! There were only some 400 to 500 inhabitants in San Pedro, and no drugs only alcohol. There were some 75 children in school and dances were held four or five times for the year. There were no hotels or restaurants, so checking for illegal sale of undersize lobsters was not necessary.
Furthermore there were very few thieves and only occasional fights, but they were fist fights without the use of weapons. In truth San Pedro was as our first few hotels advertised us to be: “A peaceful and quaint, picturesque little fishing village in Belize”. People were used to leaving their homes unattended because nobody would walk in there to do any damage or slept with their windows wide open because nobody would break in to steal. There were no purse snatchers on the streets, so the police officer got bored and headed to the sea to do some fishing or to the piers along the beach where fishermen would load him with fish at no cost at all. So were the happy days of a single police officer in San Pedro twenty five years ago. Sounds like fun, eh? I mean being a police officer and living in San Pedro as well.