The transformation of the GPF

Dear Editor,

For over 20 years, I have given support to the Guyana Police Force. I have been involved in training as well as counselling officers and other ranks. I have offered my services under the auspices of five Commissioners of Police – Laurie Lewis, Floyd McDonald, Winston Felix, Henry Greene and Leroy Brumell. My requests for an opportunity to meet with the current Commissioner of Police, Seelall Persaud, to discuss ways in which I could support his agenda have met with silence.

The interactions with officers and other ranks as well as observation of the behaviour of members of the Guyana Police Force in the institution and in the wider society have afforded me the opportunity to assess cultural patterns over the years. The response of members of the public as well as the behaviour and expectations of applicants to the Felix Austin Police College have been instructive.

I have shared my views on issues and processes considered appropriate for improving the human resource base, performance and the image of the organization with some Commissioners of Police, specifically those who were willing to interact with me on an ongoing basis. I have also submitted several documents offering suggestions for action to officers in supervisory positions. Here I will address four broad areas, viz, training, psychological well-being, verbal abuse as a cultural practice and disciplinary action.

Training is a foundational facet of any organization. The recruitment process should be thorough and vigilant to ensure that those entering the organization see it as more than “a wuk”, an entry point to “collect on the street” or an opportunity to get back at someone who has wronged them or facilitate criminal activities perpetrated against citizens. Relatives of members of the organization or influential people should be subjected to the rigours of the training programmes not given special privileges. Training should be conducted in a humane environment with a view to the inculcation of knowledge, attitudes and practices which could lift the standard of the organization. Trainers should be selected for their potential to facilitate positive development in recruits and other members of the organization. They should be afforded access to higher learning in the field of education in support of a detailed and progressive training plan, with assignment as trainer being for the long term with requisite promotional opportunities.

Recruits of the GPF come from a society which is currently fractured. They have been nurtured in an educational system which continues to leave many behind, a social environment which offers several pervasive examples of deviant behaviour and a physical environment mired in garbage. The GPF needs to acknowledge that among its number are persons who are victims as well as perpetrators of gender-based violence including sexual abuse, substance abusers, cutters and those suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It is essential that psychological support be provided for these individuals if they are to protect and serve the organization and the people of Guyana well.

One aspect of the culture of the GPF which is distressing is the practice of verbal abuse. On numerous occasions, I have been regaled with examples of more senior staff insulting juniors. Whether this results from a misinterpretation of what the power of the position allows, personal distress or a perception that this is required or acceptable behaviour by police, this practice must change if the overall tenor in and of the organization is to render it more worthy of trust and respect. I have often asked those in my classroom to be the buffer between their supervisors who are abusive and those they supervise. In other words, I have asked them to be part of a process of change. A tall order, yes, but if we remember “one, one dutty build dam”, something positive and desirable may yet accrue.

Too often forms of disciplinary action are counterproductive. Sending someone on a training programme because of a perceived misdemeanour, transfer to the Felix Austin Police College as punishment or assignment of a miscreant to an interior location where supervision is limited makes no good sense. Why pass the buck? What message does this send? Could these actions have positive outcomes?

I await the day when the organization becomes the Guyana Police Service, a name change which was proposed some time ago by officialdom. What I would be more interested in though is transformation (not reform) of the organization into one which is staffed by persons of integrity, honour, dignity and the backbone to function as professionals in any environment, whether that environment is peaceful or fraught with tension as Guyana is at the moment. I have the back of individual members of the organization. I would love to have the back of the organization. Not so now.

Yours faithfully,

Janice M Jackson

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