A holistic approach to crime-fighting is required

Dear Editor

In Guyana the Police Force is more closely scrutinised and subject to more uninformed, biased criticism than any other occupational group. The average beat duty cop is expected to conduct his/her private and professional life with more integrity and decorum than most other citizens, however unrealistic and difficult the situation may seem at times. Many ‘security experts’ have emerged expressing their views on how to solve crime. President David Granger said that crime is still at an unacceptable level, but they are being solved more quickly. There have been several crime fighting initiatives, yet still the perception is that crime and the fear of crime is too high.

According to Cohen and Felson’s Routine Activities Theory crime occurs when there is a motivated suspect, a suitable victim and an adequate location. This is popularly referred to as the Crime Triangle. It is one tool to help law enforcement tackle crime through problem solving. Crime is presumed to be amenable to suppression if any of the three legs of the triangle is removed or neutralised. Research has revealed that many law enforcement agencies place major focus on the suspects and victims and pay very little attention to the location. Hence, their inability to bring crime under control.

The Guyana Police Force is required to police numerous multicultural and diverse communities. At many of these locations there are issues and concerns occurring at the same time that are encouraging crime to flourish. They may be political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE). Unless they are adequately addressed crime rates will be high. Focusing on career criminals is a logical approach to fighting crime. Equally promising in crime-fighting efforts is a focus on high-crime locations. The real focus should be on locations where offences occur ‒ hot spots. A hot spot could be a single address, a cluster of addresses, part of a block, an entire block or two or an intersection.

Braiden (1998) suggests another way to view the significance of location: “The hunt and the habitat.” He posits that the hunters and animal rights activists are philosophically opposed to each other, yet they agree on two things. The species will survive the hunt; it will not survive the loss of its habitat. What can the police learn from this basic principle of nature? Braiden argues that if the ultimate goal is to eliminate the criminal species forever, the best way to do that is to eliminate the habitat that spawns and sustains that species. He posits that structured as it is, the criminal justice system puts 95 per cent of its resources into the hunt while the habitat is left untouched. He concluded that we can never win working that way, because the habitat never stops supplying new customers for the hunt.

There is another crime triangle which appears to be quietly working. It is the government, the police and the various stakeholders in the communities. They are working in unison not only to solve crimes, but also to deal with issues and concerns as they relate to PESTLE.

Under Commissioner Seelall Persaud the paradigm has shifted towards the police posture being community oriented and problem solving (COPS). Ranks are not only required to solve crime, but also to deal with problems in the various communities they serve. The Commissioner hit the jackpot recently. According to Kaieteur News, December 19, 2016 while speaking at the ‘A’ Division Awards Ceremony he said, “To deal with crime, we need to find social solutions. We have to improve on what is happening at the level of family… at the level of education… at the level of religion, and we need to improve what is happening at the level of community.” The Commissioner has spoken. It is now up to his commanders to not only talk the talk but to walk the talk. Assistant Commissioner Ian Amsterdam, Senior  Superintendent Stephen Mansell and Assistant Commissioner Clifton Hicken are leading this community approach to crime-fighting. The other commanders must do a bit more and let the public know what they are doing. Perhaps, the Publication Relations Office can be more proactive and promote the positive activities that are taking place in the various divisions and branches.

On the base of the triangle is the government. It is playing a major role to make the communities safer and to cater for a better life for all, excluding the criminals. Four new ministries ‒ Communities, Social Cohesion, Social Protection and Citizens ‒ have been established which although not yet firing on all cylinders have the potential to drastically address the causes of crime and make the communities safer and better places to live. Some positive things are happening.  Minister Cathy Hughes recently announced that the E- Government Unit installed receivers and internet ready computers in fourteen communities that will cater for 66,000 persons. In her budget presentation Minister Volda Lawrence informed the nation that the government will spend $100M in several communities to roll out entrepreneurial programmes  for single parents and youths.  Ongoing is the Citizens Security Strengthening Programme which is a roll-over from the Citizens Security Programme. It has a massive community involvement component. In addition to the above, the billion dollar Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRAP) between Guyana and the British Government which was scrapped by the previous administration is now back on stream through the efforts of President David Granger.  I am certain that there will be community activities in that plan. These and many more governmental inputs are excellent activities that will be of great benefit to the end users and will promote peace and security.

On the other hand the police over the years have established and maintained effective partnerships with numerous groups in the communities to bring crime under control. The existing synergy that results from community policing can be powerful. However, law enforcement officers have to be aware of some of the consequences of accepting gratuities. Although most police can discern between friendly gestures and bribes, some may not. The recent case in the Springlands community involving the police, an overseas based Guyanese millionaire, members of the community policing group, station management committee, a liaison officer and some other members of the community, that rocked the foundation of the police in ‘B’ Division  and elsewhere is a wake-up call for the law enforcement officers.

The challenges faced by the police to reduce crime and the fear of crime are many. They defy any one-shot solution. Piecemeal efforts will only produce piecemeal results. What is required is a holistic approach towards crime-fighting. The triangular affair with the government, the police and the stakeholders in the various communities is a very important tool in crime reduction. Do not expect a drastic reduction in crime overnight. However, green shoots are emerging. They will be fruitful as long as the triangular relationship alluded to is sustained. Sustainability is the watchword. The Stabroek News editorial, ‘Solving Crime’, of January 6, in analysing the crime scene rightly concluded, “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.”

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of Police (Rtd)

Around the Web