You may see news about Belize having a high crime rate or being placed on travel advisories by first world countries. The reason for this is the relatively small pocket of high crime in Belize City, which accounts for most of the crimes reported in the country. Safety is a major factor in deciding where to visit or live, and we will break down some of the information to help you make decisions about whether Belize is right for you by highlighting the following factors:
A significant portion of violent crime is gang related. Due to high crime, travelers are advised to exercise caution while traveling to the south side of Belize City. Local police lack the resources and training to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Most crimes remain unresolved and unprosecuted. Criminal defence attorneys in Belize are well trained and successful at getting their clients freed and this contributes to low conviction rates.
Burglaries and petty theft in Belize are disturbingly common. Of course, this isn’t unique to Belize. There are about 6.9 million property crime offences reported in the United States annually. But the situation is perhaps more acute in Belize, in part because often the police do little about the problem. This can be because they are incompetent, or lack the necessary training or, in some cases, they know the culprits and refuse to arrest them. Most often I think it is due to lack of resources. In many cases constables don’t even have the basic tools to do their jobs. There have been a number of reports about police cars that simply sat at the police station because there wasn’t money to buy gas for them. In many cases, the local authorities have a good idea who is responsible, but in a society such as Belize where most people in a village are at least distantly related, police have to go along to get along, and this may mean turning their eye if they think a cousin is doing the stealing or drug dealing. In a televised interview on 12 August 2021 Commissioner of Police Chester Williams referring to lax police enforcement of COVID19 regulations in Mennonite and tourism areas stated that “Well, I know that officers have gone in, and they continue to go in and issue tickets but again you find that sometimes officers need to be pushed. If you don’t point out something things to them, they pretend not to see, it’s what you call in law wilful blindness”.
What can you do to avoid being a burglary victim in Belize? Several things can help: Put burglar bars on your windows and doors. These are available from local hardware stores and cost around US$50 to $75 per window. If your house is in a remote area, the bad guys may just attach a chain to the burglar bars and pull them off with a truck, but in most areas they offer a
good first line of defense.
Get a dog. A dog is THE most effective deterrent to break-ins in Belize. It doesn’t have to be a vicious dog, but it should sound vicious. A big, black dog is considered the best deterrent.
Put a fence or wall around your property. This won’t deter serious thieves, but it may slow them down. Hire a caretaker you can trust. Though there are irresponsible or “thiefing” caretakers, there also are many who are dependable and will look out for your property when you are away. Ask around, especially among fellow expats and at local churches, for an honest individual or family. Remember, the mango doesn’t fall far from the tree. You will usually have to provide free living quarters and a monthly stipend, typically about US$150 to $300 a month, depending on what you require of the caretaker. There can also be gotchas related to your role as an employer, including the requirement to provide social security payments, severance pay, vacation time and other employment issues. Install an alarm system with motion detectors. Belize has several security companies that install and monitor residential security systems.
The homicide and violent crime rate in Belize is higher than in most large urban areas of the United States. Typically, there are 90 to 100 homicides a year in Belize. That’s a homicide rate about five to six times higher than the average in the U.S., which has an annual rate in the range of 6 per 100,000 population, which itself is very high compared to Canada (about 2 per 100,000) or Western Europe. However, most of the incidents of this type are concentrated in Belize City, and much of the other violent crime involves a farm worker getting drunk on a Saturday night. To put the Belize crime rate in perspective, Guatemala City sees about 100 homicides a WEEK.
Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking or driving at night. Do not physically resist any robbery attempt. Be extra vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs. Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry. Drive with extreme caution, even on major streets, and avoid night trips. Road conditions are generally very poor, at maximum width of 26 feet not up to international standards and may be hazardous. Ensure that you have a cell phone, spare tire, and other emergency equipment.
While most expats are concerned about burglaries and thefts, most retirees and foreign residents in Belize express little concern about their personal safety. Certainly, it’s wise to use common sense: Don’t walk on in unlit areas at night; don’t pick up strangers in your car; put up exterior lighting around your home driveway and entrance.
Article by M.A. Romero Chief Information Officer (RET) to the Government of Belize.