Serious police reform needed to change culture of brutality – Granger

The recent shooting of a teenaged boy in his mouth by a cadet officer, is a clear indication that police brutality still exists, Opposi-tion Leader David Granger has noted, adding that only serious police reforms can change this culture.

“Police brutality does exist and the evidence is there for all to see. APNU has insisted that the police be reformed. So before embarking on programmes like the Project Impact Albouystown, police need to be retrained, better supervised, they need to be better paid and why this has not happened is because of a lack of political will on the part of the Minister of Home Affairs,” he said during a recent interview.

Granger told Stabroek News that enough attention is not being paid to good everyday police duties, the removal of corruption, the removal of harassment and the enforcement of the law. He said one of his main complaints about the project was that it would “stigmatize a particular community rather than paying attention to the broader problem affecting the Guyana Police Force.”

The police launched the project mid last month and according to Police Commissioner (ag) Seelall Persaud the community was chosen based on an analysis which showed that it was the most challenging community in Guyana at present. The aim of the project is to make the neighbourhood safer.

Granger, stated too that it doesn’t matter what sort of programme “you launch. If the police are not trained to deal with young people particularly, if there is some form of profiling, if there is some sort of bullyism, you are going to have these problems and… young people will continue to resist the police force and things can get worse because when people feel that they are going to be brutalized or killed they might want to use force.”

Using the examples of the Colwyn Harding alleged baton rape and the burning of the genitals of Tyrone Thomas, he stated that it is now time for civil society to speak out about the continuous police brutality being meted out to persons particularly young people. Among the voices that should be heard is that of the Guyana Human Rights Association, according to Granger who added that reports on these cases should be given to United Nations to show that police brutality continues.

He said that in addition to strengthening the internal procedures of the police force, he would recommend that the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) be strengthened, and be given an investigative capability so that it can call the police force to account. He said that additionally the force’s Office of Professional Responsi-bility (OPR) should also be given more autonomy to investigate cases so that the public is made aware of the reports of both the OPR and the PCA. Granger said if this occurs then the public can act as a sort of oversight. “Clearly simply changing commissioners, is not going to change the culture of the police force,” he stressed.

A security source also agreed that if not handled with urgency, this situation could have serious implications for the police and law enforcement. The source said that almost on a weekly basis persons are complaining of being brutalized while in custody as part of a criminal investigation. The source said those hardest hit are young people as it is being seen repeatedly that they are often the targets.

It was pointed out that while a few of these cases have gone public since the aftermath of the brutality could not go unnoticed, it is the general feeling that the punishment for the ‘unprofessional’ ranks was not severe enough. “Look you have a case where the police shot and killed a child and two managed to evade a court appearance. They were charged but remain at large to date and up to now the police cannot give a proper explanation as to how these ranks escaped,” the source said adding that “the police have been going too far a long time now”.

The source who has a wealth of knowledge in the country’s policing practice, said that the brutality was always there but it would now appear that people have reached a point of frustration and are no longer afraid to speak out. “That is why I am saying that it has to be looked at because it is reaching dangerous levels which may cause reactions that the police cannot handle,” the source said.

According to the source, with the exodus of the experienced policemen, the force is left with lots of inexperienced ranks who “have apparently become power hungry. I don’t know what to say about the force but what I can say is that the situation is becoming frightening.” The source said that from all indications even a witness to a crime cannot escape the striking hands of ranks who seem hell bent on extracting information from persons who put up résistance. “Why is it that a rank must put a loaded gun into a person’s mouth, or set their balls on fire or even beat them to the point where they are left swollen and battered, hardly able to walk? What good will a situation like that do in a court of law? Even if the person is guilty they will walk free and then those affected by the crime get no justice. When police operate this way, everybody loses…” the source stressed.

“The power just getting to their heads. They have the power but don’t seem to know how to use it,” the source told Stabroek News while noting that one has to question the mental state of many of the ranks. “I just cannot understand why use that level of force. Can it be that they are mentally unstable? Maybe it is time that these ranks undergo psychological evaluation,” the source said.

 Alex Griffith

Granger told Stabroek News that when he heard of the shooting of the 15-year-old his reaction was there they go again.

He said that unless the police force is reformed and retrained there will be a recurrence of this problem. I don’t regard it as something rare I regard it as being typical police behaviour. Rogue police behaviour,” he said.

Griffith was shot in the mouth on Wednesday night by a cadet officer who was inquiring into a robbery committed on a female relative. Not only was he operating outside of his jurisdiction but he had a lot of control over the almost one dozen ranks who had accompanied him. The rank who is based in `C’ Division turned up at the lad’s East La Penitence Squatting area home dressed in his khaki uniform. He is under close arrest and the police have made a commitment to investigate this case thoroughly.

The security source questioned why the officer would go to such lengths if the teen told him he didn’t see anything. “Imagine is Russian roulette he playing. What message are you sending? If the child says he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know,” the source said adding that all the ranks who accompanied the officer should be charged and handed the most severe punishment. The source said the officer erred when he went to an area to investigate a crime where he had no business being. Added to that, the source said the ranks had no right taking the teenager from his home without a relative accompanying him. “This is a juvenile. Is this how the police operating now? They can just walk into your house and take your child and then shoot him in the mouth because they feel he witness a robbery? Have some of these policemen gone mad?” the source questioned while noting that the entire nation should be watching this case with keen interest.

“Is not only the officer who has to be punished but all those who accompanied him on his mission. As far as I am concerned all of them should have been under close arrest. The whole book should be thrown at all of them and they all should be kicked out of the force,” the source said adding that the force needs to assure the public that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.

With respect to the Harding case, Granger told this newspaper that he is not surprised at the length of time it is taking the police to wrap up its investigations but he was “just disappointed because there is no political will on the part of the PPP/C administration to assure the population that these offences could be treated quickly and with justice.” The opposition leader made the point that “there is a long catalogue of police brutality, of police killings, police harassment and apparently the technique is to just have them brought to court/trial with the hope that people will eventually forget them.”

Harding has alleged that a police constable rammed a condom-covered baton up his anus in November last year. He had been detained following a break and enter allegation. It was also alleged that he was badly beaten while in

lockups at the Timehri Police Station. The damage to Harding’s rectum is so severe that he has to use colostomy bags to excrete his waste.

The file on the investigations has been back and forth over the last few months. From the OPR, the PCA, the Director of Public Prosecutions, back to the police then back to the DPP, then back to the police. It has once again ended up at the PCA as the chairman has to look at some additional work that the police were instructed to do.

In September last year, 17-year-old Shaquille Grant was shot dead by police at Caesar Street, Agricola. Constable Terrence Wallace, Lance Corporal Warren Blue and Special Constable Jamal Lewis were later jointly charged with murdering the teen. However on the court date, only Wallace appeared as a result of which arrest warrants were issued for the other two. They never appeared and the police have been unable to explain why they were not present in court or why there has been no confirmed word on their whereabouts.

Wallace has since been committed to stand trial in the High Court.

The three policemen, who were on an operation in the community, observed that there were some young men under a shed in a yard and proceeded towards them and Grant was shot sometime later. The killing was met with outrage in Agricola, as eyewitnesses said one officer was seen standing over the teen as he fired bullets into his body.

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