Just when one thought it impossible that the police could slip further into the reckless use of firearms and unprofessionalism, law enforcers have been caught up in a shooting outside of a popular city establishment which has left bystander Mr Dameon Belgrave of Pouderoyen dead.
There are several features of this police operation that underline emphatically the dire shortcomings of the force and the need for emergency action. By their own account, the police force detected a motor vehicle operating in a suspicious manner in `B’ Field, Sophia. The occupants of the vehicle were challenged but they managed to get away. One wonder whether force members are equipped with the necessary training to quickly intercept and cut off vehicles in these circumstances.
What made it worse was that by their own admission again “a chase ensued around the streets of Georgetown”. The police should explain why in the many minutes from `B’ Field, Sophia, around the city of Georgetown and finally to Hadfield Street that the chasing police car was unable to phone in or radio for interception help from the many police stations and outposts between the two points. It seems that not a single other police unit was pressed into service to throw up a roadblock at a convenient point or to cut off an escape route. It exposes again the completely uncoordinated manner in which police patrols operate and which was on show during the post-2002 crime spree years.
The most appalling feature of this exercise however was the decision to shoot which led to Mr Belgrave’s death. Again by their own account, the police said the motor car being chased, PGG 3506, “eventually stopped in Hadfield Street and five men exited the vehicle. During efforts to arrest them rounds were discharged and it was later learnt that Dameon Belgrave, 21 years, of Middle Street, Pouderoyen, WBD, who was standing on the roadway in the vicinity of the White Castle Fish Shop had been shot to his left side.”
On Friday night the Fish Shop is a busy place with many people hanging around the area. For any policeman to conceive of firing amid a crowded area and in respect of an incident which did not have the hallmarks of a serious crime is beyond comprehension. Whoever fired – and it may have been more than one policeman – showed absolutely no judgement.
In the midst of what is probably its most serious crisis in 20 years of PPP/C governance, the force announced within hours of the incident that the three ranks who were on the mobile patrol had been placed under close arrest. This is in contradistinction to its handling of the shocking killing of Mr Shaquille Grant in Agricola – where in the face of even more compelling eyewitness accounts of atrocities, the police allowed two of the ranks involved their freedom and they have now apparently fled the jurisdiction and will not be appearing to hear the charge of murder against them.
While the patrolmen are under close arrest what should one say about their trainers, commanding officers, station heads and divisional commanders?
All of this is on top of a stream of other serious matters including the rape allegations which forced the resignation of the late Police Commissioner, Mr Henry Greene, the alleged rape of a woman in the Enmore police outpost, the fatal riddling with bullets of a pillion rider in the city, the shooting of protesters in the city with rubber bullets last year and, of course, the July 18 killings in Linden which are now the subject of a Commission of Inquiry that includes regional jurists.
While the Commission will pronounce on the matter in due course it is worth pointing out that even though there were dozens of policemen on the ground around the Wismar bridge and nearby on that fateful evening, the force was unable to provide a formal report on who was responsible for the shootings or even a plausible scenario for what had occurred. This is despite weeks elapsing before the final agreement to have a Commission of Inquiry. It must be the clearest evidence yet that at the scene of a major incident with numerous police on the ground the Guyana Police Force is signally incapable of arresting the situation and holding the guilty accountable. On the other hand it could simply be a case of the GPF trying to cover its tracks and avoid blame for the shooting.
The truth of the matter is that the police have been in crisis for many years now. The force is not going through a bad patch or beset by a series of freak occurrences. It is thoroughly in the clutches of an emergency that strikes at the core of basic and fundamental policing concepts. Unfortunately, it won’t be able to extricate itself on its own from this crisis. After all, it is the cloying and insufferable interference by the government that has played a major role in this. It is the government that now must accept that its politicization in 1992 of an already weakened, corruption-ridden and dispirited police force has unhinged it irreversibly from professional standards.
As we said earlier this year it cannot be business as usual for the police force. The report of the Wolfe Commission will serve as a useful marker on the way forward but there are others which have comprehensively trawled the grounds of law enforcement deficiencies such as the Symonds Report and the Disciplined Services Commission report. These must together form the basis for immediate and urgent action.
When Parliament reconvenes next week, the opposition should have on its immediate agenda a debate on the police force as a matter of urgent public importance. This should lead to a consensus with the government on the bare steps needed to rebuild confidence in the police force in light of the atrocities that policemen have been recently accused of. It is undoubtedly a matter that has to be handled sensitively and carefully as the force faces real policing challenges on a number of fronts including the drug trade. However, continuing along the present pathway is not an option for the police force.
As the Guyana Human Rights Association said on Saturday “The frequency of these incidents demolishes any attempt to explain them as the work of rotten apples. The police force is systemically incapable of policing the communities in a civilized manner. Ill-trained police carrying high-powered weapon is a recipe for deadly mistakes.”