The Police Force needs a Behavioural Science Unit

Dear Editor,

‘Police’ is a good word to start a conversation with or an even better word to start an argument. Over the years many experts have descended on the Guyana Police Force using the print and electronic media. I have listened to diverse presentations and perused numerous documents on the Force. I had the opportunity to look at both sides of the coin. I analysed the police as a senior member of the Force and now as a civilian. It is against this background that I wish to comment.

The Government of Guyana is spending millions of US dollars to reform the Guyana Police Force, to focus on training and other related issues. The Force has experienced and is experiencing numerous interventions including the Citizen Security Programme; reconstructing police stations to make them more user friendly; strategic management; information technology; integrated crime information system; civilianization; parliamentary oversight; change team; institutional modernization; comprehensive training plan; local and overseas training; monthly accountability reports by Divisional Commanders; domestic violence and human rights issues; anger management; conflict resolution; Central Intelligence Agency; crime and social observatory; community friendly programmes so as not to alienate the public as recommended by the Disciplined Services Commission Report; community action component; new police officers’ training centre; soft projects and open days by the Divisional Commanders; and an attempt at Compstat ‒ a police managerial accountability mechanism that involves four principles: accurate and timely intelligence, effective tactics, rapid response and relentless follow-up and assessment. These were excellent inputs that bore fruit and will continue to do so.

Despite all of these interventions and many more there is still a clarion call for the police to be more efficient and effective. This is so because the critical issue of the behaviour  and attitude of the police has not been adequately dealt with. A lot of emphasis has been placed on technical skills ‒ organizational skills needed for the Force to function, while on the other hand not enough effort has been paid to develop and sustain excellent people skills.

Harold C Russell and Allan Beigal posited: “The importance of understanding behaviour in the training of professional policemen is indisputable. Behaviour is the major phenomenon that the police officer must deal with, not only the behaviour of criminals, but the behaviour of the general public, the behaviour of his family and his own behaviour. He can no longer regard the study of behaviour as the sole concern of the psychologist and the psychiatrist. He must learn more about behaviour and the behavioural sciences in order to effectively and safely carry out his job.”

Over the years the role of members of the Guyana Police Force has changed. The pendulum has swung 360 degrees. The paradigm has shifted. No longer can you swear in a policeman, give him a badge and a gun and send him onto the streets to work. No longer can a policeman depend on his brawn and political connections to be effective. Today’s policeman must be part cop, part social worker, part paramedic, part teacher, part computer technician, part pastor, part mining officer and many more parts. In addition, a policeman has to deal with a lot of issues and concerns that are political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. In confronting these issues and concerns a policeman has to interact with his superiors, his peers, his subordinates, his friends, his family and members of the public. Hence, the real need for the policeman, apart from developing technical competence, to acquire effective people skills. These are critical skills required for a policeman to deliver the highest quality of service to the community he serves.

Wayne W Bennett and Karen M Hess in their book Management and Supervision in Law Enforcement suggested, “Technical skills used to be the most important. Now and in the years ahead people skills are most important.”

Woodward and Buchholy explained it this way: “One way to visualize this tactical, people-oriented approach is with a bicycle. The two wheels of a bicycle have different purposes. The back wheel powers the bike, the front wheel steers it, Extending this analogy to organizations, ‘back wheel’ skills are the technical skills or organizational skills needed for the organization to function. ‘Front wheel’ skills are the interpersonal people management skills. Corporations tend to rely on their ‘back wheel’ skills that are their technical skills.”

Typically, however, when change comes, the response of the organization is primarily a ‘back wheel’ response ‒ do what we know best. But the real need is for ‘front wheel’ skills that help people to understand and adapt to the changing environment.

A few years ago in order to address interpersonal people management and technical skills in the Guyana Police Force, the Government of Guyana in collaboration with The Emergence Group of the United States of America conducted a one year comprehensive training plan for the Guyana Police Force. Among the topical areas covered were, effectively dealing with people, effective investigations, crime scene management, policing a multi-cultural and diverse society, designing, developing and implementing programmes to enhance the delivery of quality service, problem solving, human rights, anger management, strengthening the police internal and external accountability system and capacity building for the Felix Austin Police College. According to the IDB loan document the programme was designed to develop the Guyana Police Force’s ability to analyse patterns of incidents and problems to be able to provide evidence-based sustainable solutions that would effectively identify and reduce or eliminate the causes of the problems and not just treat the symptoms. These were excellent training programmes. Green shoots are emerging from them. They will bear fruit.

These training programmes must be aggressively sustained. The current Force Training Officer Senior Superintendent Paul Williams is quite capable of making this a reality by utilizing the facilities of the Felix Austin Police College, Georgetown, the Felix Austin Police College, ‘B’ Division and the Richard Faikall Police College, ‘G Division. The Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation that focuses on four levels of evaluation ‒ reaction, learning, behaviour and results ‒ can be used to find out whether or not the police have received or are receiving value for money spent (cost benefit analysis, returns on investment). To achieve the task of sustaining this specialized training, the Force Training Officer will need a great amount of human and non-human support.

In 1989 the Caribbean heads of government adopted a concept called The Ideal Caribbean Person. This fits right into Unesco’s learning objectives. They are Learn to Live Together, Learn to Be, Learn to Do, Learn to Learn. Coming out of those objectives are critical imperatives for the police at constable, subordinate officer, inspector, junior and senior officers levels.

These imperatives require that policeman must develop good communication skills, must be able to resolve conflicts — do you resolve conflict through the barrel of a gun? Do you resolve conflict by assaulting unarmed persons? They must be culturally sensitive; multi-lingual ‒ Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and French. They must have high self-esteem; be able to manage emotional intelligence;  be able to think critically; have the capacity to act, to apply knowledge, to comprehend, to research and to analyse. All these imperatives must be common attributes of a policeman’s operational life.

We must develop a holistic approach towards enhancing the performance of our police ranks. Piecemeal efforts will produce piecemeal results. There must be ‘smart’ interventions, eg, rewards and punishment ‒ rewarding for outstanding performance and punishing for inappropriate behaviour. The process must be swift, certain and appropriate. The should be a substantial increase in salary and allowances for all members of the Force so as to attract a higher quality of recruits.

Mr L Brumell should be confirmed as Commissioner of Police, and the vacant Deputy Commissioner and other Gazetted positions filled. There must be a functioning Police Service Commission. The forty-six cadet officers have tremendous potential for growth and development. Their desires must be harnessed. Fast Forward. These cadets, over a decade from now will occupy the apex of management in the Force. Their development in the Police Force is of the utmost importance. Providing adequate living quarters for station sergeants to live in the station compounds so that they can be available to their ranks and members of the public after normal working hours must not be overlooked. Most of the public complaints against the police originate at station level.

The time is ripe for the establishment of a Behavioural Science Unit in the Force. This unit should be made up of local and overseas experts using international best practices. It should be able to conceptualize, design, develop, implement and evaluate programmes with a focus on the behaviour-attitude of all members of the Force, cutting across political, racial and ethnic lines.

These programmes will enable the police to move from a police force that regularly depends on incident driven and reactive crime reduction approaches and strategies, to effectively analysing patterns of crime and violence, their effects on the public and their causes. This would provide the opportunity for the police to be more proactive and conduct more intelligent policing. Several years ago I attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy in the United States of America. My groundings with their Behavioural Science Unit provided me with the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviour that cause me to perform well not only in law enforcement situations butin my interactions with my family, friends and members of the public. I pray that members of this proposed unit will be able to inspire all members of the Guyana Police Force to perform their duties with cleaner hands, cooler heads, warmer hearts and more passion for the job.

A happy 174th Anniversary to the Commissioner and other members of the Force.


Yours faithfully,
Clinton Conway
Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police
Former Force Training Officer

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