The government, it seems, has decided to employ a transparent and, frankly, not particularly ingenious ruse in order to adjust the public perception of policing. The Guyana Police Force (GPF) has been re-designated the Guyana Police Service (GPS).
Truth be told, it is one of those official pronouncements that will probably pass many of us by quietly, without the slightest bit of fuss or fanfare, there being other more pressing issues with which to occupy ourselves.
There is, however, a sense in which it is an interesting perhaps even an important pronouncement in so far as it appears at least to acknowledge the need to address the shoddy image in which policing is perceived.
Except, of course, that the message that it seeks to communicate in the new description of the institution as the Guyana Police Service really ought to be directed much more at policemen and women than at the public. More than that, it does no harm whatsoever to remind the government that, taken on its own, the name change really means nothing.
No dissertation on the distinctions in meanings and connotations of words are necessary here. What the government seeks to do is to alter the public perception of what the police represent. That is not necessarily a bad thing except, of course, that the perception which the name change seeks to create is at variance with the reality.
One might even question whether Cabinet ought to have made the change on its own or whether the issue ought not to have been placed in the public domain. After all, most citizens probably have strong views as to whether what we are in receipt of from the police constitutes ‘a force’ or ‘a service’ so that in this particular instance the government may well have been able, for a change, to facilitate a genuine and meaningful public consultation.
Perhaps the more important issue is whether or not it might not have been appropriate (arising out of public discourse) to actually begin to work towards the fashioning and implementation of some basic policing protocols that speak to some of the serious blemishes associated with policing in Guyana. Then, perhaps, there might have been a more generous measure of justification for describing what sometimes passes for policing a ‘service.’
Cabinet, one assumes, understands that in a matter as sensitive as policing, it runs the risk of having the government being accused of playing games with police reform if it engages in what may well be dismissed as image-management ruses like name changes, without ensuring that real changes ensue. Whether, for example, the decision to supplant the word ‘force’ with ‘service’ can banish the nightmares of police killings, torture, corruption and other blemishes that have left hideous stains on the image of the police is certainly doubtful; in the fullness of time it will occur to the government that the burnishing of the image of the police has to be attended by serious and concrete initiatives aimed at repairing its relations with the citizenry. That, we submit, will require much more than Cabinet-authorized name changes.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Not a great deal has so far been said about the relations between the police and the public in the wider discourse on security reforms, though one suspects that whatever else may constitute the exercise of reforming the police, unless it can, somehow, regain a measure of public trust, those reforms that have to do with more armaments and police stations and equipment and manpower will really count for nothing. The real essence of policing, we believe, reposes, critically, in seeking continually to enhance the quality of the relationship between the police and the public. That orientation brings us as close as we will get to the concept of service.