The Island Council on Wednesday, November 10, adopted an island ordinance granting the Island Governor special powers to protect public safety on Saba. The law regulates four special powers: camera surveillance, administrative detention, security risk area, and an area ban.
The power to implement camera surveillance in a public place is the most important one for Saba. Cameras, fixed or movable, can be installed in case of a public safety problem, such as crime, nuisance, or vandalism. The Island Governor consults with the Public Prosecutor before placing a camera. The camera images are recorded or watched real-time and are deleted after four weeks unless authorities suspect that a crime is involved. The police use the footage in their criminal investigations.
The public will be notified of the location of the cameras through signs. The most likely areas where cameras can be installed are the harbor, airport, waste processing facility, but other locations are also possible such as nature trails, the public road and parking lots, the Hell’s Gate Gut landfill, the government building(s), state-owned companies and other buildings of which management requests camera surveillance.
Under the special power of administrative detention, the Island Governor can order police to detain a group of people for up to 12 hours. This power can be used during high-risk events such as a demonstration or an illegal event when a group does not adhere to the local regulations, disturbing the peace and turning aggressive.
The security risk area power can be used if there is a serious fear that weapons will be used in a certain area. Police can search the clothing, car, and other belongings in such a case. The Public Prosecutor, Chief of Police will evaluate the risk area before it is designated.
The area ban power, already used as a warning that rowdy behavior, fighting, and excessive consumption is not tolerated during large events such as Carnival and Saba Day, orders a person not to go into a certain part or parts for 24 hours. In case of a second violation within six months, an area ban can be imposed for up to eight weeks.
The powers will be enforced by the police and will not be used in light cases, but in more extreme situations, Island Governor Jonathan Johnson explained during a meeting of the Island Council earlier this week. The powers are only used if there is no other reasonable, civilized way to solve the problem and if they are proportionate to their goal.
“It is better to act through prevention before the situation escalates,” said Johnson, in response to questions of Island Council Member Vito Charles. Charles said that aside from preventing an escalation, it was also important that police handle people with respect and not act with a heavy hand right away. “Police need to tell people with respect that their behavior is not tolerated,” he said.
The special powers are deemed necessary since the Island Governor is responsible for public order and the safety of the people on Saba. The powers in the new ordinance give him more possibilities to ensure that safety. The special powers are not for punishment, but to protect public order and safety in emergency situations and/or to prevent problems.
The new island ordinance is based on the Act Public Entities of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba WolBES which defines the special powers to the Island Governor in different articles. In the Netherlands, mayors have a number of special powers as well to use in urgent situations when public safety is at stake.