The idea to convene the Guyana Police Force’s Conference for Inspectors and Sergeants held last month under the theme “Frontline Management: a Catalyst for Hastened Reform, Effective Partnership and Professional Policing” was refreshing. But, although the conference’s sub-theme was “Your views count,” the encounter was more about listening to the viewpoints of the Minister of Home Affairs Mr Clement Rohee and Commissioner of Police Mr Henry Greene than about expressing the views of the inspectors and sergeants.
The Commissioner explained, frankly, that the real motive behind the conference was not about learning of the inspectors’ and sergeants’ concerns. It arose from the administration’s dissatisfaction with the performance of police stations which are managed by the inspectors and sergeants.
In reality, the Minister and Commissioner must be aware that the fundamental problems facing the force and the stations are the shortage of manpower, the insufficiency of funding and the stalling of the police reform process. These are all matters within the purview of the Minister’s portfolio but about which the average station sergeant can do little. As presently resourced, the stations simply do not have the tools to do the job.
Manpower is the most serious problem. Owing to demographic, economic and political changes over the years, the force’s responsibilities have increased but its manpower has decreased. The force loses an average of one member every day, but recruitment cannot replenish its ranks rapidly enough. There are simply not sufficient constables to staff the stations and, for certain public events, the force literally has to “empty the offices” to place constables on the street.
The minister’s glib response to the staffing shortage was to suggest that the neighbourhood policing programme be expanded and the community policing groups be extended. PPP general secretary Mr Donald Ramotar, similarly, affirmed that the administration was determined that community and neighbourhood policing groups should make up for the police personnel shortfall. Little wonder that the force remains understrength and the stations are undermanned!
Financing is also seriously deficient. Although the President throws non-taxable bonuses at the policemen at Christmas time, the administration has not been equally generous in providing essential equipment – such as boats, computers and vehicles – and in repairing rickety interior stations. If the minister paid visits to far off places such as Acquero, Imbotero, Issano, Ituni, Imbaimadai and elsewhere, he could learn a lot more about the conditions of the stations and the circumstances under which subordinate officers work.
Knowing these problems, the Minister sermonised the sergeants with a long litany of complaints. Starting with the condition of police stations, barracks and compounds and supervision of lockups at police stations, he went on to find fault with the handling of complaints from the public; timely response to reports; relationship with community policing groups; enlistment of members of the neighbourhood police programme; establishment of station management committees; and junior policemen’s discipline. This was simply a bit of old-fashioned buck-passing. Why blame the middle managers and not the decision-makers?
The Commissioner also seemed to speak of some futuristic fantasy force by airily calling on the conference to “embrace computerisation” and to “embrace police reform” including the establishment of a new forensic laboratory, the creation of a new training college, and refashioning police stations to facilitate privacy and confidentiality. When will these things come to pass?
If police stations are to become more efficient, they must be given sufficient human, financial and material resources. The inspectors and sergeants need resources, not sermons. They might as well repeat British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill’s plea in the early days of the Second World War: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job!”