It was some time in 1972 that the Mighty Chalkdust sang a calypso which he called ‘Ah Fraid Karl.’ The main theme of that song is that he was afraid of the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago in the person of Mr Karl Hutson Phillips.
Indeed! Karl was feared by most if not all criminals, who once caught, were prosecuted with utmost vigour.
I became concerned by two recent stories in the media which suggested that some people in our society perceive that they need to be afraid to say certain things. That caused me to wonder what they ‘fraid’ of and who they ‘fraid’ of?
The first story was by a ‘Police Pensioner’ who lamented the 11 months delay in the payment of his pension because the relevant funds mysteriously disappeared from the Police Finance Office in the heart of Force headquarters. He said that he was afraid of victimization and that is very, very sad indeed.
The other story was by Mr Alan Fenty who in one of his weekly columns captioned ‘Frankly Speaking’ mentioned many positive attributes of the police and in the process listed the nine commissioners who emerged since the acquisition of political independence (1966). He noted that he could have commented on the stewardship of each of them, but he was constrained by inadequate space and fear.
After all it would take volumes to chronicle the works of nine commissioners over a period of 44 years. But why should anyone harbour any fear in doing so? Isn’t it ironical that Mr Fenty said that he was speaking frankly but was still afraid to speak? Nevertheless I will satisfy a long felt desire and briefly comment on some events which occurred under the watch of the earlier of the nine commissioners.
Prior to our achievement of political independence all the commissioners were colonials, but from 1967 Guyanese nationals were appointed as Commissioners of Police. The first was Mr Felix Austin. His watch lasted a mere nine months and, therefore, there is not much which could be said about his work.
Those were the formative years and he may have been engaged in making the adjustments to our novel political status. According to the police historian Mr John Campbell, Mr Felix Austin introduced the first motto of the force which was ‘Service With Pride.’ This was eventually changed to ‘Service And Protection’ by his successor Mr Carl Austin.
It is to be noted that no rank died in the line of duty during Mr Felix Austin’s watch.
Our second Commissioner of Police (COP) was Mr Carl ‘BoBo’ Austin. Guess what? Criminals in Guyana (Georgetown) were afraid of Carl Austin as much as their counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago were afraid of Karl Hudson Phillips. Prior to becoming the COP he was a crack detective. He and another in the person of Nathaniel Thom were known as the spin twin, feared by all criminals in the capital city.
Carl Austin arrived at the helm of the Force in 1968 and made many positive changes during his reign which ended in 1973 when he died in service due to illness. Among the changes which ‘BoBo’ made were the introduction of females to the Mounted Branch for the first time in 1969, a new ceremonial outfit and the Copper newspaper, to name a few.
In so far as human resources management of the Force was concerned, he became famous for his ‘on the spot promotion’ gesture which according to Mr John Campbell warmed the hearts of many long-serving constables better known as ‘Old Police’ who would have worked hard for many years, without being promoted.
One of the more famous cases during his time was the capture of the murder fugitive who answered to the name Abdul Salim Malik from T&T. Malik was wanted for murder in Trinidad. He fled to Guyana but was found hiding in a coal pit in the McKenzie community.
During his tenure, at least six ranks died in the line of duty, five of them during the infamous Rupununi uprising in 1969. ‘Bobo’ will always be remembered for the astute manner in which he approached policing.
Mr Henry Fraser, popularly known as ‘Uncle,’ replaced Mr Carl Austin in 1973. Like his predecessor, ‘Uncle’ had been an outstanding detective who had a passion for justice and was the epitome of excellence. He believed that training and education were critical to the success of policing and in the spirit of nationalism was instrumental in the introduction of the first ever Junior Officers’ Course in 1976 which had hitherto been done overseas.
He was responsible for many such programmes, yet it was under his watch that the Education Allowance Programme which had been introduced in 1960 was disbanded. I think that that was a mistake, the effects of which we are feeling until today.
With respect to the education allowance John Campbell wrote: “In September 1960, education allowances were introduced into the Force as an incentive for members to improve their education. Approval was given for the payment of an allowance at the rate of $4.00 per month to constables, corporals, sergeants and inspectors who obtained a pass at the General Certificate of Examination …or a credit at the Cambridge School Certificate Examination.”
There can be no doubt that the education allowance programme did help to motivate ranks –especially at the lower levels – to improve their educational levels. For the life of me, I could not understand why it was terminated. I sincerely believe that it should be reintroduced at the lower levels of the force.
That apart, I must conclude that ‘Uncle’ did serve and lead the Force in an exemplary fashion. Even though it was under his watch that Arnold Rampersaud was unsuccessfully prosecuted three times for what was defined as a political murder, no one can deny that he left a legacy of integrity behind. He will be remembered as an icon. It is therefore a downright shame and disgrace to see how the Force treated him in his last days. It is worthy to note that four ranks fell in the line of duty under his watch.
I think that I should say that Commissioner Fraser was such a modest man and he left the Force so quietly and graciously that hardly anyone noticed that he had left after passing on the baton to Mr Lloyd Barker in 1977.