Our police officers in service and justice

In the midst of that crass plosive pessimistic passiveness that drowns out any kindness, goodness, friendliness, professionalism that remains in our society, there’s one Police Officer you could turn to for prompt service in Georgetown. It’s an astonishing thing to encounter this oasis in Guyana’s dearth of professional service.

Here’s a guarantee: if you face any problem or challenge, and you live in Georgetown or its environs, turn up at the Brickdam Police Station, climb the wooden unpainted stairs to the upstairs office of Commander of ‘A’ Division Clifton Hicken, and walk into his office and talk to him. He will pick up his phone and deal with your issue right there and then.

Citizens show up unannounced at Commander Hicken’s office, and his courteous, professional secretary politely points them to his office. A group of people walk in, taking up chairs around the desk of the jovial, pleasant Police Officer. Many citizens sing his praise, because he solved pressing issues they faced.

Ways of looking and feelingHicken’s story is worthy of a feature in all our national newspapers, so inspiring is his work ethic and consideration and conscientious regard for the welfare of his community members.

His office, modest with a medium-sized desk and with the walls filled with trophies and framed pictures, exudes a cool air of comfort and welcome. The Guyanese walks in to the office of a top Police officer, and feels worthy, dignified, important.

Hicken is in fact a stunning anomaly in the context of today’s Guyanese society.

When this writer talks of Hicken’s professionalism, folks say “oh, he de man who been involved in Linden protest ting”. It took little research to find that Hicken’s name surfaced during the Linden protests. That’s on record. His professionalism is hidden behind his closed office door as he solves citizens’ concerns, unassuming and humble. The media fail to tell the real story of Guyana. We see paraded a Police Force that is incompetent, unprofessional and riddled with corruption, not considering the context, that this actually describes all of Guyana, including the Private Sector.

If we want to develop this society, we must rid ourselves of irrational emotionalism, and face each other with rational sobriety, acknowledging, seeing, feeling how blessed we are as a nation. This attitude of complaining and seeing only enemies is a sort of national madness, an insanity that we must cure ourselves of, or we’ll perpetuate our slide to a gutter society.

We’ve got to set a new tone for how we see ourselves, how we feel about the people who, in the midst of severe national handicaps, plow through to make a difference.

On the frontline of justice, service and governing of our communities, stand our police officers, neatly attired, sober-faced.

Our police officers face not only citizens, but criminals. It’s a tough job. Our police officers, these frontline public servants we encounter in trust and hope, wake up every day to don their uniform knowing that their salary is among the lowest in the country, and that their life could be in danger. Yet, they plod on, toiling even to direct traffic in hot sun at perpetually broken stoplights.

We owe our police officers so much. They maintain a dedicated attitude of humble servitude to the State, never protesting their poor salary and unpainted desks and shaky chairs at police stations.

We look at our Police Force with mixed feelings, seeing the rampant corruption in the Force, with bribery a norm across the country. The citizens, including our business owners, pay bribes to traffic cops on the streets with alacrity and ease: this is our culture; we accept it as the norm.

The state of the Police Force, however, reflects the state of the Guyanese society:

* that devastating world-record 89 percent brain drain that cripples our society;

* the Public Service catastrophe whereby low-paid, poorly-trained Public Servants deliver sub-standard service to Guyanese;

* the four-decade old entrenched problem of widespread corruption that afflicts all corners of Guyana;

* the lack of training of front-desk workers;

* the polarized political atmosphere that demoralizes the Guyanese nation.

Citizens encounter the Force and more often than not walk away in disgust and disdain. Thus with the public health care system. We live in a society gutted at its core, the brain drain devastating the heart of the nation.

While not condoning breaking of the law, one cannot in good conscience rail against poor traffic-police officers for wanting a “raise”: they have families to feed and educate, mortgages to pay, cars to maintain. Their salary cannot sustain them in this world, in a society with less than US$1 Bln national budget, with Parliament, incredibly, fighting over this morsel of scrap.

The Police Force is not all gloom and doom.

But there’s a mammoth amount of work to do to regain the trust of citizens, to inculcate hope in the citizen that when an inconsiderate neighbour blasts music through a village street at 7 am in the morning, the cops would show up and maintain decency and order, preventing anarchy from crass citizens.

The Force suffers decades of decay, and now many of our police officers treat citizens with disdain, and even contempt. Front line officers at the stations answer citizens’ phone calls either with rudeness or indifference.

The Force has a serious problem with training of its front-line officers. Maybe Hicken acts with such astonishing professionalism, and such integrity in upholding that cop creed to serve and ensure justice is dispensed to ordinary people, because he got training. But the average cop’s behaviour paints a picture of the Police Force that is severely unflattering.

Like the Public Service, the Police Force needs to work hard to gain the respect, full cooperation and love of the Guyanese citizenry.

But, in keeping with our new ethic to search for solutions rather than sit back and blame and scapegoat, we must applaud those flickering sparks that are igniting, as we see in people like Commander Hicken.

We see in people like him hope that Guyana is turning the corner: we will get to our destination one day, because leaders respecting professional service and acting with care and consideration for citizens are emerging among us.

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