Approval for the formation of a SWAT team is just the government’s attempt to look good in its response to the current crime situation, according to former police commissioner Winston Felix.
He said too that the force’s TSU (Tactical Services Unit) in the past has successfully provided similar services to that of a SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) Unit.
Felix, who is now APNU’s shadow Home Affairs Minister and Member of Parliament was reacting to a statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs that Cabinet has given approval for the setting up of the Unit for the Guyana Police Force. This announcement comes amidst a sharp rise in violent crimes including several execution-style killings.
“The PPP Government is seeking to do anything to look good in the current crime situation by now talking about the formation of a SWAT Team…This talk is more than seven years old as it was once the talking point of a former President of this country when Guyana was feeling the brunt of a crime spree”, he said. The former president he is referring to is Bharrat Jagdeo.
Felix told Stabroek News that the issues which would have a positive effect on the current crime situation and beyond are reducing the rate of withdrawals and absenteeism from the Force; ending the haemorrhaging of personnel as it is very high and currently serves to undermine the capacity of the Guyana Police to produce its best performance; training and developing investigative skills within the CID to solve and manage crime scenes efficiently and providing adequate vehicles and teams to respond to serious crimes.
“The Mambo Bar shooting (on Sunday) was a case of a response that is intolerable and must be improved”, he stressed. It was reported that police turned up over half an hour after the fatal shooting though a police station is close by.
Felix noted that a SWAT Team would be a good idea once the circumstances in the country justify its formation. “Such a team is useful to engage, inter alia, hostage-type situations, and armed and violent criminals, though the TSU has successfully done this type of intervention over the years”, he said, adding that he sees “no reason why in our circumstances that the TSU cannot perform their roles as they were doing in the past without political interference”.
He singled out the Linden shooting last year which left three protestors dead and several others injured. He said that they were killed “by police who were suffering from an overdose of political interference”.
According to Felix, a SWAT Team is not a heavily armed daily patrol group and should not be used as such, but once formed, “the group ought to be carefully managed and not left to rot and become indisciplined and corrupt like the Target Special Squad, in which case there is an abundance of evidence that they were providing protection for certain businessmen and were aligned to a now convicted trafficker of narcotics from Guyana to the United States of America where he is imprisoned”.
Felix said that he has no confidence under the present government that “the necessary command and control function which ought to be exercised by the Commissioner of Police would not suffer from a dose of poison from political interference”.
The Ministry in the statement had said that the initiative is aimed at strengthening the Force’s law enforcement capabilities. It said that with a SWAT Unit, the Guyana Police Force would be better placed to make specialized interventions, thereby, ensuring law and order is maintained, and prospective threats are neutralized.
It added that the Ministry has engaged the services of ‘The Emergence Group’ (TEG), a Washington-based consultancy firm, to obtain the requisite assistance in this initiative.
The process will commence shortly with an ‘Organizational Needs Assessment’ to be done by experts from the consultancy firm, according to the release. It added that the curriculum development and training, including mentoring, will also be undertaken by the consultancy firm.
The press release added that the establishment of a SWAT team has received the full support of the leadership of the Guyana Police Force.
Opposition Leader David Granger has since said that there is no need for a unit and that more attention should be placed on issues affecting the force including proper investigations, the Force being brought up to strength and the availability of resources such as aircraft and All-Terrain Vehicles to ranks so that they can adequately patrol the interior regions.