As the clock wound down on the year 2016, there was a growing sense that while violent crime did not give the population much respite last year, there was a remarkable improvement in the performance of one section of the Guyana Police Force, namely the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Full praise in this regard must go to Crime Chief and Head of law Enforcement, Senior Superintendent Wendell Blanhum, under whose watch this turnaround has started to gain traction. Acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine in August of 2016 stated that the GPF’s ability to solve “serious crimes” had improved by about 58%, and he credited capacity and capability building in CID for this improvement.
This is not to say that all is now well with the GPF, or in the country for that matter as it relates to violent crime. We have seen even in the waning days of 2016 and on the very first day of 2017 that unlawful killing continues, particularly that resulting from domestic and criminal violence. But now there seems to be a swifter, more certain investigative response from the CID, and there have been clear signs of progress over the preceding twelve months to give the populace hope that justice and law and order will eventually prevail over the ongoing violence and rampant criminality.
Several cold cases have been solved during 2016, although note must be taken of the activism by relatives of some of the victims in an effort to awaken public interest in the need to find and bring to justice perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Indeed the GPF has been able to correct some of its missteps and possible negligence in solving the aforesaid cold cases, and action on current crimes has led to credible arrests and confessions.
This positive improvement in the crime solving ability of the GPF must have an equally positive effect on the rank and file of the force, and while honest and hardworking policemen have been given recognition over the years, the CID’s Detective Corporal Prem Persaud who was named overall Best Cop for 2016 in the GPF’s annual Award Ceremony, was a much needed shot in the arm and a public relations triumph for the force. Reeling from bribery and corruption allegations, and trying to rid itself of tainted police officers by way of dismissals, the GPF must have felt no small pride when Corporal Persaud upheld the law in refusing a hefty bribe of $4.0M in what has since become a high profile murder case, allegedly involving a US-based millionaire.
Despite the GPF still being plagued by many issues, including leadership wrangling, a weak criminal prosecuting unit, and a need to get a grip on the traffic lawlessness and carnage on our roads, there seems to be a palpable improvement, at least in the CID Major Crimes Unit, that if managed effectively, can grow and spread to all sections of the GPF in all its Divisions. In this regard, leadership will be critical to charting a new course and instilling in the rank and file a sense of pride in their job, together with providing them with the necessary training and personal development opportunities while serving in the force.
For certain, if the GPF is to be able to chart and follow a clear course of sustained development, then the practice of having Police Commissioners appointed with only a few years remaining until their retirement, must cease forthwith. This approach, while possibly being politically expedient, results in weakened leadership, diminishes the autonomy of the Police Commissioner, and stunts the execution of plans and programmes, particularly in the long term.
Guyana is a country that still needs to fast track its development through its ability to woo foreign direct investment, and its tourism sector continues to hold potential for significant growth. It therefore goes without saying that a well-organised, professional and effective Police Force will go a long way towards ensuring that investor confidence can be nurtured and maintained. Also, with the high influx of visitors ‒ some of them semi-permanent ‒ from neighbouring countries like Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba and even the Asian and African continents, an effective law and order dispensation will require a police force equipped with the training and cross-cultural know-how to deal with a growing heterogeneous population.
The road ahead for the Guyana Police Force is filled with challenges and opportunities, and the current leadership must look towards transforming the force into a modern day police force complete with the necessary physical and technical infrastructure, manned by well-trained and properly equipped personnel, and utilising all the available modern technology, systems, weapons, and protective gear, and providing appropriate remuneration for persons expected to lay their lives on the line in the service and protection of the law abiding citizens of Guyana.
The citizens of Guyana have begun to see what appears to be a silver lining in the operations and functions of the Guyana Police Force.