Investigating crime

Two weeks ago we carried a report on a letter sent by none other than the Director of Public Prosecu-tions Shalimar Ali-Hack to Police Commissioner (ag) Leroy Brumell.  She expressed concern that the case files had revealed “poor and inadequate” work on the part of the police resulting in several murders being left unsolved.  Adverting to ‘D’ Division in particular, where murders had occurred last year, she wrote that none of these had been solved owing to “poor” police investigations.

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee had raised the same issue at the Police Officers Conference early in March, when he said that the police force lacked “the ability or the will” to solve high profile cases. Presumably he had already seen a copy of the DPP’s letter to the Commissioner, which was dated January 29, and was understood to have been received by the latter on February 12.

The DPP also complained about the inordinate delays in the forwarding of files, citing a case in Bel Air Park where the police had “overlooked obvious clues of a double murder”; their suspicion was that it was a murder-suicide. It was 34 months after the discovery of the bodies before the case file reached her chambers. “Due to poor police investigations,” she wrote, “no person has been charged and this double murder remains unsolved.”

Ms Ali-Hack also highlighted the fact that files for which requests had been made had not been forwarded to the chambers of the DPP, citing various cases to illustrate her point. She told the Commissioner that “This unacceptable trend is ultimately impacting on the effective functioning of the DPP’s office.” She proposed that when a report was received by the police in relation to a serious offence, the police file should be taken to her chambers for legal advice within 72 hours.

In our edition last week, we carried comments by Commissioner Brumell in which he said that the DPP’s concerns were being addressed. When asked by this newspaper what specifically would be done to deal with investigative shortcomings he responded that the focus would be on training. “We have courses coming up,” our report quoted him as saying. He was also suitably vague about what the force intended to do in relation to the investigations of some unsolved cases dating back three years and more. “We never close a case,” he told this newspaper; “we keep working as long as we pick up information.” One can only observe that if the investigative skills at present deployed in the police force are not equal to solving current cases, then there is no hope whatsoever of them solving cold ones, no matter how long the files are kept open.

In our March 31 issue we reported security sources as saying that while the police had previously blamed limited forensic capability and the lack of cooperation on the part of witnesses for the inadequacies, it all came down to sloppy investigations.  Indeed it does. One source had earlier told this newspaper that forensics does not independently solve crimes; these are solved by investigators who are required to gather the evidence, find witnesses and uncover the motive.

While in other countries, in the absence of other evidence, forensic work does indeed lead to the identification of a perpetrator, that does not mean that basic police work is abandoned. The problem in our case is that the police often do not appear to apply common sense in their investigations, never mind bring professional skills to bear in the process of solving crimes.

This was evident only recently when in our Thursday edition we reported the Toshao of Omanaik, Delph Hunter, as saying that investigations into the murder of a man, undertaken by the Village Council and the victim’s family, suggested that the police had held the wrong people for the crime. Without recapitulating the details, suffice it to say that the account of the Council and the family appeared plausible, while that of the police did not tend to the conclusion that their inquiries had been at all thorough.

As it is, therefore, this particular crime too will probably go unsolved, because it is unlikely that a case can be made out against the men who were detained for questioning ‒ who in any case to all appearances may well be innocent ‒ while the police have shown no energy in pursuing more fruitful leads. Omanaik is close to Imbaimadai, which with all the mining around has brought considerable criminal activity in its wake that the police stationed there have been ineffective in stemming. According to Toshao Hunter, the police ranks are usually sent there as punishment, which if true would certainly be a major factor in their failure to produce results.

If the police cannot be bothered to interview everyone who might be able to help them, do not follow up every possible lead, cannot construct hypotheses about a crime and then eliminate the unlikely ones on the basis of the evidence they turn up in the process of their investigations, then the Commissioner has a much bigger problem on his hands than he is acknowledging.  And if they cannot do the basics, then the Minister’s much touted forensics laboratory is not going to help them very much either, particularly if their carelessness and ‘sloppiness’ contaminate the evidence they collect for analysis.

Training is certainly essential, but one cannot believe that the Guyana Police Force does not at present train its recruits in basic investigation techniques. If it
doesn’t, this would be yet another scandal. If it does, then there are serious problems at the senior officer level, since the work of the ranks is not being adequately monitored. Last week AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan told this newspaper that there was need for a better quality of police recruits. Of course, given the low pay levels of the GPF and its unsavoury reputation for corruption, better educated potential applicants are not likely to be tempted to join up.

One cannot help but feel, however, that there could be a specialist unit ‒ within CID, for example ‒ entry to which would require higher educational qualifications, whose members would be on higher salary scale than other entrants to the force and who would have intensive training in investigative techniques. They could take on major crimes in any part of the country, provided the government made the resources available. As it is, in a few cases officers from Georgetown are still sent into the interior to investigate serious crimes.

The deterioration in the performance of the police has as one of its root causes the politicization of the force which began under the PNC. At the moment, it functions under one of the most political of ministers, who for obvious reasons is not the man therefore to professionalise it. Everyone knows why over a period of twenty years the PPP wanted political control of the police, but their success in this endeavour has now come back to haunt them. Various innovations have been introduced to improve the capability of the GPF – the intelligence unit (presumably) in the compound of Castellani House and the CCTV cameras, for example – but the first has not broken up any criminal conspiracy that anyone knows about, and the second has not even caught a traffic offender that the public is aware of, although from what the Commissioner said last week it appears that the cameras are in use and have caught all of two bandits.

The police force suffers from major systemic problems which everyone has been aware of for years, but before any security sector reform will have any impact, the government has in principle to be prepared to allow it to become fully professional, and has to be prepared to tackle its corruption problem head on.

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