Our dead-end discourses on crime and policing

Setting aside the recent and apparently ongoing row between the Police Commissioner and his high-ranking subordinate there are quite a few other matters of pressing public concern that have to do with the functioning of the Guyana Police Force. What, of course, makes these deserving of public discourse at this time is the fact that they coincide with what, unquestionably, is a need for the Force to raise its game in the face of one of those serious crime surges to which we have grown accustomed.

It needs to be made clear that official pronouncements about planned initiatives to respond to the current crime wave are not exactly stacking up reassuringly against the seeming determination of the criminals to make those pronouncements appear as ineffective as whistling in the wind. It may be a fact that it is the law that possesses a monopoly of force but, as it happens, that is not the way that it is seeming at this time. Here, we need hardly remind ourselves that all too frequently, perception trumps reality.

The Guyana Police Force, of course, will always remain encrusted in rumours about how it actually functions, how committed those who serve are to enforcing the law without fear or favour, and the extent to which we are possessed of a capable and competent Force. Of course, we have long passed the point where even a schoolchild can be persuaded that the Force has not become compromised by crooked cops, and that corruption in the Force goes way beyond traffic cops ‘shaking down’ transgressors on the streets. When it comes to public attention, therefore, that a number of junior ranks are ‘under the gun’ for infractions ranging from accepting bribes to serving as enforcers or facilitators for criminal acts, no one is fooled into believing that this is where the fault line in the Force stops.

On the other hand some of us still cannot help but recoil in shock and horror when we are told eerie and altogether persuasive stories of powerful people who are above the law because they have senior and influential members of the Force in their pockets. Similarly, when we hear accounts of people whom, one is told, can literally commit a crime and cause their police ‘connections’ to make it ‘go away.’

In essence, it is these revelations, as much as the fact of marauding criminals, that strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of law-abiding citizens. Being held hostage by ruthless criminals is one thing; having or at least thinking that you have evidence that service and protection is not particularly high on the list of many who serve on the Force, including some of those who serve in influential positions, can be an equally frightening proposition. It adds a new dimension of emotional nakedness to the fear that has already gripped you.

When we think of factors that might drive corruption in the Force, what can easily come to mind is the likelihood of what one might call action by example. A lot of the stories of corruption in the Guyana Police Force that you hear come from ordinary ranks who become aware, in considerable detail, of what is related as the ‘runnings’ of their superiors. Unsurprisingly, they frequently tender what they say are the actions of their superiors as justification for what they contend are their considerably lesser infractions.

One might well argue whether, in the circumstances, a sufficiently substantial case has not long been made for an investigation which focuses on these issues that surround the Force and its operations, since we are dealing here with a matter of national security. The problem of course, as many people understandably argue, is that such a probe might unearth a can of worms, the toxicity of which we cannot be certain about.

The alternative, of course, is to continue to endure the apprehension and the cynicism which, inevitably, will persist in an environment that will cause those who know better to laugh their heads off or sigh resignedly whenever they hear high-sounding official pronouncements about plans to “tackle crime” and to institute a regime of “police reform.” The truth, as it happens, has long become a matter of public knowledge and the official pronouncements, these days, amount to no more than reason for successive waves of   public chatter that ebb and flow in much the same manner as do our crime sprees.




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