There could be citizens’ surveys to assess approval rating of police

Dear Editor,

The discussions on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Guyana Police Force continue in the print and electronic media and elsewhere. This is even more so when the police produce criminal statistics to justify their performance. Patrick Mentore in a recent letter to the editor of Kaieteur News asked an important question: where is the baseline to compare the stats. Both Stabroek and Kaieteur News carried editorials on the crime situation in Guyana. Peeping Tom not only peeped. He scanned the environment and posited that the anti-crime strategy will fail. Time will tell whether or not he is correct.

Mr Norman McLean, retired Major General raised some valid issues on the crime situation in Guyana. This was on his own behalf and in his capacity as Chairman of the Private Sector Commission. He had been giving the police professional and financial support over the years. He has good will for the law enforcement agency. The police policy analyst in an article in Kaieteur News was reported to have made a hasty, angry and unprofessional response to the renowned security management expert’s comments.

The facts at issue put forward by Mr McLean were not analyzed and dealt with. It would appear as though those issues were hurriedly dashed under the policy analyst’s unsolved serious crimes red carpet. The performance of any police force that does not respond to well-founded criticism with a willingness to change will be prosaic. The vexed question is how does one conduct a performance appraisal on a police force that is operating so far below staff strength; a police force that may be losing more ranks than it is recruiting on an annual basis; a police force that needs more boots on the ground; a police force that had been starved of human and other resources over the years; a police force that is woefully short of basic land, water and air transportation; a police force that may lack the resources to conduct rapid response operations in relation to reports of serious crimes, even though they may have actionable intelligence.

Despite all these serious challenges and many more, the police on several occasions over the past few months have sparkled. Green shoots are emerging in several areas. They will be fruitful.

I am heartened that the real issues and concerns affecting the police are being dealt with at the highest level. Sometimes, it may not be correct to measure success by weeks and months.

Some writers have opined that people tend to use crime rates, number of arrest and case clearance rates to measure how the police are doing. They suggest that such measures have several problems. A low crime rate does not necessarily mean a police agency is efficient and effective.

A high arrest rate does not necessarily show that the police are doing a good job. A high ratio of police officers to citizens does not necessarily mean high quality police service. Responding quickly to calls does not necessarily indicate that a police agency is efficient.

Other writers state that rather than looking at crime rates, the number of arrests and response time, an evaluation should assess whether the agency is effective in fulfilling its responsibility to the community, and should focus on three areas: organizational, technical and personnel. They further state that when evaluating the effectiveness, efficiency and productivity of the entire department managers must focus on their mission statement. They must consider what people want and expect from their protectors. Most people want to live in safe, orderly neighbourhoods. The reduction of fear is an important measure. This will send a message to citizens that the department is addressing their fear of crime and neighbourhood disorder. The police are considered effective when they produce the perception that crime is under control.

As part of their strategic plan the GPF designed and implemented a new mission statement. It states, “The mission of the Guyana Police Force and its auxiliaries is to serve all citizens and communities of Guyana in a professional, proactive and accountable manner.

“To achieve this we must work in partnership with communities, public agencies and private bodies to enhance and support an environment where all people are preventing crime and building a safer and secure Guyana.”

I like the building of partnerships with the various stakeholders, but can you imagine an environment where all people are preventing crime and building a safer and more secure Guyana? Certainly, it cannot happen. All cannot be involved in the fight against crime and the fear of crime. It is not realistic or achievable. A mission statement must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely; some strategic management experts will say task oriented. The drafters of this mission statement were a bit careless and reckless but definitely not dangerous or fatal.

Citizens’ approval or disapproval for the police performance is generally reflected in letters of criticism or commendation, support for police programmes, cooperation with reports being investigated, letters to the editor, public reaction to a single police citizen incident or responses to police-initiated surveys.

It has been recommended that one way to assess citizens’ approval or disapproval is through citizens’ surveys which can measure trends and provide positive and negative feedback on the public’s impression on law enforcement. Community surveys are often a win-win situation; citizens are better served and officers receive positive feedback. Community surveys can also be a key in establishing communication.

 

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

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