In wake of conflicting accounts of how two bandits were shot dead in South Ruimveldt by the police, President David Granger yesterday called for emphasis to be placed on capturing lawbreakers with the aim of gathering intelligence on the origin of weapons, gangs and the masterminds, even as he expressed concern about such incidents.
“It is important to not only suppress crime but to identify and remove the causes of crime and if criminals are killed, you can’t find out what is their motivation… So, I am very disappointed when in confrontation persons who are accused of crimes or alleged to be criminals are killed and I would like to see due process,” he said, during an early morning recording of the Ministry of the Presidency’s “Public Interest” programme.
Granger, who had previously conducted extensive studies on extrajudicial killings and criminal activity here in Guyana, told the reporters present that his instructions would be to save lives.
Edgar Blackman and Sherwin James were killed on Wednesday morning in South Ruimveldt after reportedly invading a home and terrorising two women, along with two others, and attempting to enter another.
One account was that the men were hiding in a black water tank when police opened fire, killing them. Stabroek News was told that after the tank was shot up, police requested a cutlass which they used to cut open the tank to reach the men. Police, however, refuted this saying that the men were hiding behind the tank and firing at them when they were shot dead.
Blackman’s mother has since called for a probe into the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.
Asked about the particular incident, Granger said that he would like to see such persons arrested and brought before the court. He stressed that with their capture police will be able to find out more about the masterminds of crimes, whether they were part of a gang, who the leader is and most of all where the guns they were using came from. “If you kill them, you wouldn’t know these things. So I don’t want to see more deaths, I want to see more arrests and more interrogation… We can bring an end to these execution murders, the gun running and other forms of criminal activity,” he said.
According to Granger, it is apparent that some gangs are re-emerging. “It may just be small gangs of two or three but it is a danger and I would always put the saving of human life above, as a greater priority than just shooting down people. I don’t like that at all,” he said.
He added that in the recent case it did appear that the criminals were armed and that there was a shootout.
“We are reforming the rules for coroner’s inquest so there will be coroners appointed who do not necessarily have to be district magistrates. This will enable the state to ensure that all unnatural deaths are investigated,” he said, while adding that even in a case where a criminal or a person assumed to be a criminal is shot, there will be an inquest and “greater care exercised by the police authority to ensure that the policemen don’t act unlawfully.”
Army not deployed for law enforcement
Meanwhile, asked about ‘Operation Dragnet,’ Granger stated that it was not an operation of the joint services and therefore one would not see the army and the police going around the city or other parts of the country.
He emphasised that the army has specific responsibilities for territorial defence and coastal surveillance and that was exactly what the army was doing.
The police, he said, are responsible for law enforcement.
“What you are seeing in Operation Dragnet is the specialised functioning of the various arms of the security sector. In particular, I would expect that focus will be placed on the possibility that terrorists could enter the country and the Ministry of Citizenship is involved. So we want to protect our borders from terrorism. We would like to see that there is no threat of extremism, because we are operating in a transnational or an international situation of fear…,” he said, before adding that Guyana is looking at counter-terrorism, law enforcement and the suppression of gun running and cocaine trafficking along with the “normal day-to-day crimes.”
On December 1st, government announced that the joint services would be conducting an operation with the aim of enhancing national security. The operation, which will last for six months, ends on June 1st next year.
Granger stated that in a nutshell there are several components of the operation – there is a police law enforcement operation, there is a defence force border security operation and there is a general responsibility on part of government to ensure citizens are not exposed to transnational crimes.
Prepared for external threat
According to Granger, the country’s army is capable and is very much prepared for any external threats it may be faced with.
“Well, yes, Guyana has never forgotten or ignored the threat to its border, particularly from Suriname and Venezuela and as you have seen recently, not only Operation Dragnet but the Guyana Defence Force mounted a successful exercise Greenheart in the Bartica area, which demonstrated its capability to do just that,” he said.
Granger reminded that in October the Venezuela armed forces had conducted some very “provocative” exercises in the western Essequibo area, in which they deployed rockets and armed river craft and increased troops. He said Guyana was quite prepared to respond to this situation and he is very satisfied that the “Guyana Defence Force is ready, has demonstrated its preparedness.”
He said he would not compare the performance of the security forces now with what happened under the previous administration – the PPP/C. “There is really no comparison. What the security forces has is a very clear mandate,” he explained, with respect to the series of events next year which may bring about an expectation of increased criminal activity. “It is a period of heightened vigilance …and the forces are clear about their individual mandates,” he said.
Meanwhile, Granger stated that the evidence of reforms taking place in the force will take time to be seen.
He said that a presidential advisor on security reform has been appointed and government is aware of the series of recommendations that have been made with respect to security reforms, especially to target corruption and extra-judicial tendencies.
He agreed that the police reforms have not been moving fast enough. In this regard, he pointed out that many of the reforms deal with human behaviour – the conduct and efficiency of the force – and this is expected to take some time to be implemented.
“It will take a little bit longer to ensure that the efficiency and the integrity of the police force are maintained but the reforms have started,” he said. He added that government has set up the National Anti-Narcotics Agency (NANA) and is in the process of reformatting the National Security Master Plan that was inherited from the PPP/C.
He said that apart from the improvements in training and administration of the Guyana Police Force, “It is a bit early but I expect in the fullness of time you would see the effect of those reforms.”
According to Granger, at present more crimes are being prevented and detected than before. “We cannot boast that we can prevent crimes from occurring but you can see that the responsiveness of the police has been a deterrent and also there have been more cases brought before the court, more people are being arrested,” he added.
Asked if the public can look forward to any new measures geared at cleansing the force of corruption and extra-judicial killings in the near future, Granger said government would prefer to enhance the old plans rather that develop new ones.
“We are not in the business of creating new plans. We are in the business of implementing the very plans which the previous administration failed to implement,” he said. He noted that the most important one is the £3 million security sector master plan, which was never implemented.
Noting that there have already been 14 years of planning, he added, “This time, the difference is that you have an administration which is going to implement the plans.”
Later, Granger told Stabroek News that he doesn’t see the need for international law enforcement officers being incorporated into the local police force to help target corruption and root out bad practices.
“I see that they, the external elements, could be involved in training but I don’t see them being involved in administration, management or command of the force at this point in time,” he said.
On the issue of raising the criteria for entry into the force, he said that this was one of the recommendations made by the Disciplined Forces Commission. “We do not feel that having what is described in the police regulation as a sound primary education is enough. So I would say yes we need to have a higher level, at least secondary education,” he noted. He said that when policemen and women enter the force, they will not remain at the rank of constable; they will eventually be promoted. “So when a person enters he [or she] must have the level of education which can equip him [or her] for higher promotion,” he said.