Keeping track of our Police Force

There is a school of thought that frowns violently on points of view that are critical of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), asserting in defence of the police that their job is a challenging one and that persistent criticism only serves to demoralize the men and women whose task it is to get the job done. There is, as well, the view, that sometimes the evidence of underperformance becomes sufficiently worrisome as to give rise to the need for robust reality checks, candid examinations of aspects of our law-enforcement regimen to determine whether the extent of their sturdiness compares favourably with the magnitude of their responsibility. We are, we believe, in such a period.

The point should be made at the outset that a fair section of the Guyanese population has become downright cynical about the likelihood of serious qualitative change in the service afforded by the Guyana Police Force any time in the foreseeable future.  While the holding of officers and ranks up to public (and often unwholesome) scrutiny has its critics, nevertheless, when those shortcomings are overlooked the outcomes, frequently, are a further decline in critical areas of the Force’s responsibility.

A point has long been reached where we have come to accept the weaknesses of the Force as a fait accompli. Some of those weaknesses are extensions of serious institutional shortcomings, like inadequate compensation and a badly under-resourced Force. The weaknesses that derive from these institutional shortcomings will not go away until the causes are remedied. Others have to do with incompetence, indifference and corrupt policemen and women. Arising out of one or another of those shortcomings we have grown accustomed to having to endure a Police Force that habitually slips its moorings and drifts off on excursions into the absurd, like the very recent mysterious disappearance of cocaine which we thought had been securely locked away.

Before we get to that, however, it is worth mentioning that the matter of policing has, for years, been caught fast in what has become an unending discourse on police reform, the various opinions of the assorted experts on the subject amounting to no more than hot air. Those have taken us nowhere. The matter of police reform, incidentally, is by no means the only area of public policy in which the gap between the rhetoric and its actualization would comfortably cover the extent of the Soesdyke/ Linden highway, many times over.

There are the routine stories regarding instances where laid down operating procedures that ought to give direction to policing live cheek by jowl with another layer of ‘rules’ that run counter to what proper policing practices dictate. We have come to take for granted policemen who demand bribes, take advantage of the indiscipline of large sections of the minibus industry to perpetrate organized shakedowns and selectively harass motorists against tint transgressions whilst driving police vehicles and vehicles owned by policemen sporting tints which, from the outside, appear to seriously compromise driver visibility. These are all microcosms of a wider problem that have to do with, among other things, leadership deficiencies, institutional indiscipline and what would appear to be a deep-seated belief that being subjected to policing rules does not apply to the Force itself.

There may well be good reasons for these shortcomings. The Commission of Inquiry into the alleged attempt to assassinate the President tells an alarming story about the leadership crisis which the Force faces, including what it suggests are counterproductive rivalries at the top, seriously defective inter-departmental communication, departure from established procedure and a range of other shortcomings.

These, of course, are not the days when we recoil in shock when news reaches us that packages of cocaine disappear into thin air whilst in the custody of the police. The problem is that there is an instinctive propensity on the part of the government and the GPF to have the Force close ranks on those occasions when it has no believable story to tell. Perhaps worse, no Guyanese who understands how the Police Force works would wager that it wouldn’t happen again. It is the seemingly ingrained corruption, defective management, absence of clear and consistent systems and procedures and mind-boggling accountability deficiencies that are collectively reflected in the cocaine incident. Perhaps even more troubling is the remark attributed to Vice President Ramjattan and reported in the Friday September 29 issue of the Stabroek News about him having his suspicions about who the culprits in the recent cocaine case might be.

By coincidence, sections of the media reported on Friday September 29 on the commissioning of a specially designed Property Room specifically for the purpose of properly storing inventory like the missing drugs. Is it not more than a trifle comical to make public utterances about some of the procedures that will be followed now that the Canadian government has favoured us by funding the facility rather than providing some rational explanation as to why, in this day and age, we lacked, up until a few days ago, such a facility. Surely, that provides at least part of the answer to the questions that arise about the missing cocaine.

All of this only serves to remind us that to the long-standing neglect of anything remotely resembling a serious effort by previous political administrations to effect transformational reforms in the Force has been added another two plus years of inaction by the present administration. In the meantime, there is evidence that the inertia, indiscipline and incompetence that have long-afflicted the Force continues, seemingly unchecked, whilst the unending and patently pointless lip service to police reform persists unchecked. No matter how unwholesome it may sometimes seem, we are not afforded the luxury of looking away.

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