In a sobering moment during the recent officers’ conference, Commissioner of Police Mr Henry Greene admitted that the force had a severe personnel shortage of about 785 persons, or 20 per cent of the establishment strength. As a result, Greene said, “Our office workers normally spend 50 per cent of their time in offices and 50 per cent of the time they spend on the streets.”
A couple years ago, Greene said similarly that the force was stretched to the limit having almost “emptied its offices” to provide sufficient personnel to augment street patrols during the Rio Group summit conference and Cricket World Cup competition. This cannot be an efficient method of policing but little seems to have changed.
Greene’s grim tidings were corroborated by Assistant Commissioner Seelall Persaud − head of the Criminal Investigation Department − who confirmed that “the shortage affects every department” and pointed out that the police force, which is about 2,700 strong at present, has been receiving recruits over the years but it has never been brought up to strength.
The fact is that the force loses an average of one member every day through retirement, resignation, death, dismissal or unauthorised withdrawal, but it has not been able to attract an equal or greater number to replace those who leave. In the worst case during the troubles on the East Coast Demerara in 2002-03, average annual recruitment actually fell to about 90. These numbers mean, simply, that the force is gradually shrinking as its responsibilities keep growing.
The administration seems to have adopted a say-nothing, do-nothing approach and does not evince undue concern about the fact that the police force is 20 per cent under strength. Minister of Home Affairs Mr Clement Rohee stated plainly from the outset that the solution to the personnel problem was to expand the neighbourhood policing programme and extend community policing groups. No serious person can think that is a sensible solution to strengthening the police.
The administration needs to accept the need for rebuilding a full-strength, professional police force by removing the serious disincentives to officers’ service. One move should be to reject the demoralising practice of retaining commissioners after they had passed the age of retirement thereby preventing talented younger officers from reaching the top position. Next Monday, for example, Greene himself will be 55 years old and due to retire but the administration has deliberately neither announced his successor nor appointed a substantive deputy commissioner of police to understudy him.
The administration must also improve police conditions of service in order to control corruption which is also a significant cause of loss of personnel. Greene told the conference that 24 officers were brought before the law courts to face charges of corruption and another 89 for other offences. According to a Government Information Agency report, Greene − then Assistant Commissioner responsible for administration − told the Disciplined Forces Commission that many individuals “join the force with ulterior motives” which are not in the best interest of the force and eventually succeed. It is assumed that once delinquents are discovered they will be dismissed.
After years of ignoring the problem, the administration must get serious about bringing the police force up to strength. Ambitious, educated young men and women will enlist only if conditions of service are improved, pay is increased and tertiary education opportunities are enhanced.
The minister needs to rethink his police personnel policy and take steps to revise police conditions, recruit more qualified constables and rehabilitate the training establishment. Nothing is more important to public safety than a fully staffed and well-trained police force.