As the year 2017 winds to a close, the tragic loss of life through violent crime and road accidents continues to cast a spotlight on the Guyana Police Force (GPF), exposing its failure at fulfilling its mandate to protect and to serve the Guyanese populace. Despite earlier assurances by the Minister of Public Security, the month of December has served up a statistically depressing number of fatalities by way of vehicular accidents as well as by brazen criminal activity.
But this is not to say that the GPF has not made an effort to get on top of crime and road safety issues during the frenetic hive of activity that occurs every December, but the Minister’s promises have certainly raised the public’s expectations beyond the ability of the GPF to deliver.
Indeed, when police departments in most countries of the world would have been gearing for a hike in criminal activity in the month of December, the Minister of Public Security in Guyana instead made a boastful promise to Guyanese of “a better Christmas” from the perspective of crime. To the general public, the Minister’s words, premised on the receipt by the GPF of vehicles and equipment gifted by the Chinese government, seems to have backfired.
The lack of a more studied and sober approach to information dissemination by the GPF and the Ministry of Public Security might be the consequence of the GPF’s weak organisation and management structure. One becomes much more cognisant of the degree of organisation and management systems and skills necessary for the efficient running of the GPF when consideration is taken of its many divisions spread throughout the country, and its employment of over 4,500 personnel.
During 2017 the GPF enjoyed brief periods of public goodwill, particularly through the work of the Criminal Investigation Department under then Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum, as several criminal cases were solved including a few “cold cases.” However, the GPF did not seem to be as successful in the prevention of violent crimes, and its response to crimes in progress also left a lot to be desired.
In a fashion typical of bygone years, the Traffic Department of the GPF in September 2016 launched a traffic control initiative titled ‘Operation Safeway.’ One year after in the words of Traffic Chief Dion Moore, Operation Safeway “has borne us some amount of fruit,” yet the everyday road user might be hard pressed to describe the unique police presence on the roadways that constitute ‘Operation Safeway.’ It might also be a useful exercise, directed at any random GPF traffic rank, to query their awareness and understanding of their day-to-day role in the operation.
Not that all that might even be necessary; in the latter half of this year, ranks of the GPF itself have been highly visible for their involvement in a number of traffic accidents. These occurrences contradict any pronouncements of success regarding Operation Safeway, however modestly proffered by Chief Moore.
Similarly, serving policemen being charged for committing crimes also help to downgrade any perceptions by the public that the GPF is being competent in its fight against crime, and this does a great injustice to those honest, hardworking policemen and policewomen in the Force.
Indeed 2017 has brought a lot of focus and attention on the GPF and revealed to the public some of the inner workings of the organisation. It now seems clear that the GPF is lacking in professional and autonomous leadership without the burden of political interference, and untainted by affiliations to business, political or other special-interest groups.
The recent Commission of Inquiry into an alleged plot to assassinate the President did reveal a degree of unprofessional conduct by officers of the GPF, but this, in turn, has resulted in direct political action that has created some amount of uncertainty at the highest levels of the Police Force. Under the fire of public criticism, President Granger has committed to the appointment of members to the Police Service Commission by the end of the year.
The holder of the office of the Commissioner of Police (COP) is itself determined by political selection of the Head of State with the agreement of the Opposition Leader, but the expectation of political neutrality remains a fundamental component of the office of the COP.
If the GPF is to succeed in becoming the type of organisation it is supposed to be in the very near future, then it must be repaired from the top down starting with a qualified, competent and independent corps of professional men and women who are adequately remunerated for the job they are expected to do. The practice of promoting persons to the top positions who have just a few more years to retirement seems politically expedient. Such a practice is disruptive to long term operational efficiency, although it has the appearance of fairness in terms of years of service.
The GPF must operate under the rule of law, and according to documented Standard Operating Procedures properly updated given changes in the law, technology, and other things. The management of nearly 5,000 employees requires the adequate use of information technology systems, including employee monitoring systems and with a functioning professional Human Resource department. The entire membership of the GPF must be buttressed from interference and influence coming from political and business interests among other special interest groupings.
Reforming the GPF is a very difficult endeavour requiring focus and commitment, a long-term vision, and planning and execution. Guyana is set to soon become an oil economy, and in this context alone can ill afford a dysfunctional police force.
As a negative spotlight continues to shine on the GPF in 2018, the onus is on its leadership to demonstrate that it can be a cohesive, disciplined and professional organisation operating within the law without fear or favour to serve and protect all citizens of Guyana.