Over the years, judges and magistrates have railed at police prosecutors and the police in general over poor prosecution, insufficient evidence, illegally obtained evidence and a host of other missteps that have caused cases to collapse and be thrown out because guilt could not be proven.
While some members of the judiciary and the magistracy have done so publicly from the bench, recently, a member of the justice system who chose to remain anonymous told this newspaper during an interview that the poor prosecution which has resulted in the collapse of several cases in the magistrates’ courts was a disturbing reflection of inadequate training in the rules of evidence, poor investigation practices and corruption. The source pointed to the poor operation at the Prosecutors’ Office in Georgetown and a desultory approach to investigation and evidence gathering that seems to permeate the Guyana Police Force. The cases involving the theft of transformers from the Guyana Power and Light Inc and the Polar beer scam were cited. More recently, the domestic violence-related case in which Okema Todd, a mother of two was stabbed to death, allegedly by her reputed husband was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Over the years too, there have been endless allegations of corruption involving police officers and some have been disciplined while others have been prosecuted. Victims of crime and their survivors also constantly lament over the sloth of the police in taking statements, collecting evidence, speaking to eyewitnesses and what appears to be an overall dilatory approach to crime investigation. While this might not apply to the entire police force, it is widespread.
Perhaps the most salient point of the interview was the recommendation made by the interviewee for a review of the training models for police prosecutors and an evaluation of the trainers. The response to poor prosecution by police officers has always been that they are not lawyers, and Crime Chief Seelall Persaud said exactly this when the question of inept prosecution was put to him. Don’t the police want to win the cases they prosecute? Surely the answer is to improve the training being provided. And this should be extended to the entire police force.
The force is well known for its ongoing training; there is no arguing with that. In addition, non-governmental organizations have helped train police officers in specific areas, a case in point being the training provided by Help & Shelter in handling domestic violence matters. But the fact is that the only department that really demonstrates the evidence or training given and received and put into practice is the Immigration Department. It is perhaps the department that interfaces with the public the most both at ports of entry and at its central office where passports are applied for and renewed. This department was not always well run and there are still slip-ups from time to time. However, it is worth stating again, as mentioned before in this column, that the current Commander of ‘A’ Division George Vyphuis was mostly responsible for whipping the department into shape when he was there.
That said, it is high time for the Guyana Police Force to take a hard look at the quality of service it provides and how it can raise the bar. A review of the training provided at the Felix Austin and other police training centres around the country would be a good place to start, paying attention to the maxim of quality in-quality out.
It is well known too that police salaries are unattractive and this must be addressed. However, perhaps a partnership with the University of Guyana could see the development of a diploma in policing or crime-fighting and the institution of a proper police academy. Maybe degree scholarships in other relevant areas for police officers who show promise could be arranged, with the understanding of course that they return to serve the force.
Like everything else around us, crime has modernized; fists and sticks have been replaced with guns and bombs. Criminal minds are increasingly younger, smarter and technologically more advanced. Policing must also emerge into the 21st century.