Annual report Public Prosecutor’s Office: Fewer suspects behind barsPOSTED: 06/14/14 12:27 AM
St. Maarten – The Public Prosecutor’s Office detained 16.8 percent fewer suspects in 2013 than it did in 2012. This appears from the 2013 annual report. “This could be the result of diminishing crime figures and the deployment of community police officers,” the report states.
In 2013, 296 suspects were locked up compared to 356 in 2012. The majority of suspects (267) were adults, and the remaining 29 were minors. The numbers are the lowest of the past five years. The total number of locked up suspects peaked in 2011 (391), but the highest number of minors that ended up behind bars was recorded in 2010 (59).
The number of crimes the prosecutor’s office handled is still steadily going up – from 559 in 2011 and 591 in 2012, to 627 last year. The number of minors involved in these crimes remains steady with 67, 70 and 69 respectively in the past three years.
The prosecutor’s office had set a target of handling 675 crimes in 2013, but it fell short of this goal by around 50. “There is an increasing trend since 2011,” the annual report states. “The number of cases is decreasing according to the police. The deployment of community police officers is preventing crimes. The quality of the police reports is not optimal yet; the police are still in training.”
The number of requests for international judicial assistance has more than tripled since 2009 – from 61 to 203 in 2013. Most of the requests stem from the French side of the island. The prosecutor’s office and the police met with their French-side counterparts in June of last year to streamline their efforts. On that occasion, they spoke about establishing a joint database for stolen cars and about a faster exchange of information.
The annual report devotes one paragraph to the cooperation with American law enforcement. “St. Maarten is an important partner in the international fight against drugs in the Caribbean. The cooperation with the United States demands a lot of energy and attention due to the fundamentally different work methods and legal systems.”
During a meeting in Curacao in 2013 with the American Department of Justice, the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the prosecutor’s office brought up the finer points of the BOB-legislation that contains the rules for special investigation methods.
In 2013, the prosecutor’s office brought five cases to court for the seizure of assets from convicted criminals. The total amount involved in these seizures is $1 million. The money will go to the Crime Fund.
In the introduction to the annual report, Chief Prosecutor Rick Noordhoek notes that 2013 has been a complicated year, due to the departure of his predecessor Hans Mos while there was no successor in place yet. One prosecutor (George van den Eshof) left halfway through the year and a policy advisor also left.
When Hans Wesselink arrived as interim chief prosecutor, it became clear that there were arrears in several areas, the annual report states. “In the cupboards were dossiers without “owner,” left behind by colleagues that had already left. A large number of administrative processes were not – and still are not – documented clearly yet, the archive was not cleaned up, conditional convictions were not or hardly kept up with, the execution was not in order and there were unfinished projects for security and renovation.”
The prosecutor’s office tackled the most important issues first. “As far as the foundation is concerned, the office is in a better condition now,” the report states.
The prosecutor’s office has six priorities: youth, violent crimes, trouble-causing crimes, drugs criminality, money laundering and financial crimes, and human trafficking and human smuggling.
As far as the youth is concerned, the prosecutor’s office has a serious point of concern: the zero tolerance policy of the secondary schools. “The consequence is that youngsters are removed (too) fast from school. Usually this means that they cannot find another school and that they cannot finish their studies. The youth prosecutor is on behalf of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in talks with the school boards about a change to this policy.”
In 2013 the prosecutor’s office worked on a so-called Pay or Stay system – a technical support system whereby those who fail to pay their fines go to jail. Unfortunately, the annual report notes, we have not managed to make this system a reality before the departure of the policy advisor. Other problems complicated the introduction of this system, like the lack of a solid wanted-register and the shortage of cell capacity. “These are two requirements for a well-functioning Pay or Stay system.”
There is room for improvement in the information exchange between the police force and the prosecutor’s office, the report notes. “It happens still too often that the prosecutor’s office has to read in the papers after the weekend that an incident took place. There is certain reluctance from the side of the police to approach the prosecutor’s office.”