Police force under a dark shadow

It was only in October that we editorialised on the Guyana Police Force and the high number of crimes and negative incidents being reported in the press in relation to the actions of a few of its senior officers and many of its rank and file members. Against this negative and depressing backdrop, the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, in anticipating the arrival of assistance from the Government of China in the form of police vehicles and equipment, boasted that Guyana “certainly will have a Christmas that is gonna be better than previous years.”

The promised vehicles and equipment have since arrived from China and the President was on hand to make an address on the meritorious occasion. However, while all this attention was being focused on the hardware received from China and the re-establishment of the 911 Call Centre – also a Christmas promise from the Minister of Public Security – there has sadly been no cessation in the continuous rogue behaviour of segments of the Guyana Police Force.

The most recent, most heart wrenching and mind-boggling event of this sort is the alleged (and potential) involvement of policemen in the death of a young school teacher who was found with a broken leg and multiple head injuries on the corner of Princes Street and Louisa Row, and who died while receiving medical attention several days later without regaining consciousness. At the time of writing four policemen are now in detention and under investigation, with two of them being directly linked to the crime. At the very least, two of the motorbike-riding policemen behaved most unprofessionally towards her and there is likely more.

In the meantime those at the helm of the beleaguered Guyana Police Force and those in Government with oversight continue to whiffle and to waffle and to leave the leadership of the Guyana Police Force under a cloud of uncertainty. At a time when the GPF needs strong decisive leadership to try to turn around an organisation that seems rudderless and undisciplined, the powers that be continue to play a guessing game with the public and this indecision, whether deliberate or otherwise is now beginning to wreak deadly consequences on a vulnerable population.

After the public Commission of Inquiry into the alleged plot to kill President David Granger exposed the soft underbelly of the GPF and its fragmented and discordant leadership there was immediately an expectation of some degree of changes in the leadership of the GPF, indeed, the President himself promised (or threatened) to execute a major shake-up in the GPF. To date, there has only been more sidestepping and controversies including, but not limited to, the bizarre dance of senior officers which occurred as Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum, one of the brighter lights in the GPF, proceeded on vacation leave. Minister Ramjattan subsequently confirmed that government had “intervened” in deciding who should perform acting duties as Crime Chief during Blanhum’s absence.

With such confusing activity and mixed signals at the highest levels of the GPF, it certainly can be no surprise if, in the leadership vacuum that seems to currently exist, already notoriously unprofessional and corrupt elements within the GPF become unrestrained in their reckless day to day unregulated manoeuvrings and in the process begin to become as dangerous to the general populace which they are under obligation to “serve and protect” as those criminal elements within the society whom they are tasked with apprehending.

The creeping demise in the Guyana Police Force has its origins many, many years ago but things must be considered to be reaching the melting point when the news is  almost on a daily basis inundated with more policemen committing crimes and errant activities than the actual criminals themselves. From fatal vehicular accidents to other aberrant and abhorrent activities from those who have sworn to uphold law and order, it must be the view of any casual observer that sections of the GPF seem to be in self-destruct mode even as the 911 service begins to put on a professional appearance and a bumper hamper of vehicles and other equipment from China emboldens the subject minister to make bold promises of a “better” Christmas.

It is a well-known principle in management that the human resource is much more important than physical resources such as vehicles, equipment and weaponry. It seems quite obvious that over time, both the human resources and the internal systems that guarantee control and checks and balances in the GPF have been greatly undermined in terms of their ability to do the job they are set out to do. For a brief while, with the advent of Mr Blanhum as Crime Chief and head of the Criminal Investigation Department, there was a marked improvement in the investigative and crime solving capacity of the GPF and this triggered a small, but growing wave of hope for the future of the Force. However, the GPF is now under a dark shadow cast partly by its own conduct as an organisation and the conduct of its rank and file members, and also as a consequence of the recently concluded CoI.

Where the GPF goes from here remains to be seen. The vacuum of leadership is without a doubt hurting the decent men and women among the members of the GPF as it is hurting the general public. The recent attempted murder and suicide by a serving member of the GPF who was allegedly in a relationship with the woman he tried to kill is just another sign that there is absolutely no structure and day-to-day management system within the GPF. At a time when the help of the GPF is needed to address the scourge of Domestic Violence, it is clear that the DV is alive and well and untreated within the GPF itself.

The actions of serving members of the GPF during the latter half of 2017 is symptomatic of a very serious decline in the GPF that cannot be fixed with clever statements and photo-ops. Minister Ramjattan and his government must show recognition of the need to urgently arrest and reverse this decline of the GPF and act to craft a sustainable and bipartisan solution that will have widespread public support.

We cannot continue to be “fiddling while Rome burns.”

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