Crime and Christmas

In the few remaining days left before we celebrate Christmas, the likelihood that criminal activity could intensify will be one of the things uppermost in the minds of Guyanese. While it is regrettable that we must divide our attention between those activities associated with celebrating the biggest holiday period of the year and the opportunity for criminal pursuits afforded by the seasonal upsurge in commerce, it is a reality that we dare not overlook. For sure, the criminals will not overlook it.

Statistics alone, including the occasional release of figures alluding to modest percentage movements in the occurrence of one particular type of crime or another, do not come even remotely close to helping us to arrive at an understanding of the kind of impact which violent crime, is having on the national psyche. It is occurrences like the recent fatal shooting of East Coast Demerara minibus driver Mr Jermaine Burrowes, who, mortally wounded though he was, managed to drive his passengers out of the immediate danger of gun-toting bandits, that more clinically sums up the situation in which we find ourselves.

Bandits who target minibuses the primary means of public transportation for much of the population with the intention of robbing passengers, even injuring or killing them in the process, send a frightening chilling message to the commuting population and throw down a weighty gauntlet to the Guyana Police Force (GPF), hard-pressed as it is to cover all of the various other crime-fighting angles with which it is confronted.

To return to the issue of seasonal crime: while the few remaining days before Christmas Day, particularly the heavy trading activity in the capital and elsewhere, will doubtless be seen by the criminal element as a sort of ‘happy hour,’ the question that arises is whether, even now, we can look to the force to mount a well-planned, energetic and sustained operation to attempt to narrow the angles, so to speak, for the criminals and to see us through this particular period. It will require, among other things, a strategic regime of police deployment in the city (up to late in the evenings) to respond to the likelihood of attempted crimes ranging from major robberies and the sorts of opportunistic crimes associated with the crowds which, even now, flood stores and pavements, to inner city patrols to take account of the likely targeting of homes whose occupants might be pursuing their Christmas and post-Christmas shopping.

The problem with an adequate police response is that we already know of its seriously under-resourced condition which is precisely why it is decidedly disingenuous for the authorities to suggest that every apprehension (or killing) of a bandit amounts to some significant statistical dent in criminal activity. The truth of the matter is that the force is nowhere near where it ought to be in terms of its capacity to respond adequately to the extent of the current crime challenge; so that while it is true that persistence (and sometimes good fortune) will continue to yield some measure of results, the posture that so often underpins its one-swallow-makes-a-summer approach to assessing the extent of its success or otherwise in combating crime is fooling no one. It is instances like the recent mindless killing of Mr Burrowes that has much greater impact.

Of course, if we accept that part of the problem facing the force is that of capacity, then it is really pointless to continue to point the finger of blame solely in its direction. This newspaper never tires of making the point that much of the problem has been with the political prevarication that persists on the issue of police reform which, by definition, includes enhancing capacity. We need to begin to shift much of the blame. One of the reasons for the successful proliferation of crime is the belief on the part of criminals that in the course of the execution of their crimes the ability of the police to neutralize them is strictly limited. The available evidence suggests that they have a point.

Today and the next few days before Christmas Day – and during the holiday period as a whole – activities associated with celebration, not least the spike in commercial activity, will bring with it equal measures of enthusiasm and tension. Crowd-ed stores, congested pavements and minibuses travelling along lonely roads, passing villages that have come to be associated with criminal activity will, in their separate ways, evoke feelings of apprehension and uneasiness that will cast a shadow over the seasonal festivities. We are entitled to look to law enforcement to see us through this period ‒ and beyond.

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