Can the Police Force rely on itself to re-invent itself?
After the bodies of Police Constables Letlow and Aaron had been found at Kato in October rumours began to circulate to the effect that their deaths might have been reprisal killings associated with robberies that had been committed against miners operating in the area. Evidence that they might have been tortured lent a generous measure of credence to the reprisal motive. More than that, information also surfaced that one of the two dead policemen had previously come under internal investigation relating to allegations that he had been involved in other crimes while serving in another part of the country.
It is altogether reasonable to assume that the police were in receipt of all of the aforementioned information. Add to that the fact that the Crime Chief himself had said that the Force was in receipt of reports to the effect that the two constables were allegedly involved in a robbery and it seems that even without having to rush to judgment the police had been handed quite a bit of information with which to work in the course of their investigation into the deaths of the two policemen.
The fact that the Force itself had conceded that one of the two dead men had previously come under internal scrutiny in relation to allegations of involvement in crimes raises the issue as to whether or not his subsequent posting to Kato where he met his end amounted to sound judgment on the part of the Force. We know too that the two policemen were reportedly tortured by their killers and even if one accepts that enforcing the law in such a remote part of Guyana can pose tough challenges, it is entirely unheard of for policemen to be attacked, murdered and (apparently) mutilated. Here again, the telltale sign of possible reprisal killings stuck out like the sorest of sore thumbs. All this notwithstanding, the Force, for several days after the killings, took the position that it had unearthed no clues as to why the two policemen had been killed. One must of course accept the importance of investigating such an occurrence with the greatest possible care. After all, the two dead policemen were reportedly out on patrol when they met their deaths and it would have been a matter of the utmost importance to ensure that nothing untoward be ascribed to them unjustifiably. The Force, however, faced another dilemma that had to do with what it would have regarded as conflicting responsibilities, the first being to hide such shame as might arise from the discovery that the two policemen had in fact been killed as acts of reprisal and the second being to set aside the possibility that the truth might cause the establishment to have to hang its head in shame and simply let the chips fall where they would. It is an altogether invidious position for the Force to find itself in. It is, at the same time, a circumstance of its own doing and one that it must confront and eradicate if it is to overcome its crippling loss of public trust and credibility.
Corruption inside the Force has now become sufficiently public knowledge to make official denial untenable, though there exists no really persuasive evidence that either the Minister of Home Affairs or the Police Commissioner is quite ready to handle this particular matter with the transparency and forthrightness that would persuade the public that they are serious about tackling the problem. As one senior police officer remarked to this newspaper recently, “the police are never really keen to investigate their own.” As he explained it, the Force lives with the fear that the entire barrel may be deemed spoilt whenever a rotten apple surfaces. The option which the Force appears to have adopted is one that ascribes an overwhelming measure of importance to itself as the enforcer of the law and the keeper of the peace in the hope that this sense of self-importance will make its tainted public image go away. The outcome of the ‘dream world’ which the Force appears to consider it best to inhabit has been the emergence of a kafkaesque relationship between itself and the public in which, by and large, both sides often studiously pretend to share a perfectly normal relationship when nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth reposes in events like those that occurred in Linden and Agricola over the last few months. Exactly a week ago this newspaper ran a story based on an account provided by a woman of what is allegedly a pattern of criminal behaviour of a particular type by some policemen in Region Eight. It appears, according to the woman, that the practice of policemen relieving miners of large sums of money has become prevalent in this particular area. Crime Chief Seelall Persaud’s recommendation is that that aggrieved persons or those with stories to tell about crooked cops engage himself, the Commissioner or the relevant Divisional Commander. It appears not to have occurred to the Crime Chief that the ‘talk to the police’ approach to fighting crime has been tried before, but has not caught on with the citizenry for the simple reason that there is an absence of trust between themselves and the police. There are people, many people, who believe that to attempt to finger a crooked cop could actually render you much worse off than before you attempted to do so. Put differently, people are fearful of reprisals, real or imagined, and if the Crime Chief’s recommendation may appear to be procedurally correct it is, in reality, a ‘cop out.’ If the Force is serious about cleansing itself, about restoring a measure of public confidence, it has to devise more ingenious ways of weeding out the crooks and culprits in its midst that do not depend on knocks on the doors of police stations by aggrieved persons. If it may be a bitter pill for the Crime Chief to swallow that a sizeable section of the Guyanese community probably do not believe that they will get anywhere by sharing their stories with a Police Force that is simply not inclined to investigate itself.