Continuing problems in the police force

More than three years after APNU+AFC entered office, the public has grown increasingly impatient with the poor performance and corruption in the security sector particularly considering that President Granger had had deep engagement with law and order matters before taking office and was one of the members of the 2003 Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) which enquired into the deficiencies and challenges facing each of the services.

There is no sign of any abating of questionable transactions ensnaring members of the various branches of the joint services. One of the most egregious ones in recent times was the detaining last year of the Head of the SWAT team, Motie Dookie on the suspicion of smuggling liquor and leaving his assigned jurisdiction without permission.  The authorities appear to have done their utmost to ensure that there was no damaging charge in this case. However, this one incident underlined the deep entrenchment of the problem and unfortunately, nothing that the government or Minister Ramjattan has done has sent a clear signal that the old culture that undermined the force and public confidence in it would be shaken up and dismantled. The Guyana Police Force continues to meander in its failed ways much akin to what transpired under the PPP/C government. To make matters worse, a Commissioner of Police from the current hierarchy is about to be selected to preside over this shambles.

Just last week, following a series of news items, two police ranks were levelled with 38 charges pertaining to fraud in the driver’s licensing system. One of the accused was the confidential secretary to the Traffic Chief. It is also important to note that these charges were developed only after a senior pastor made a report to the acting Police Commissioner.  The point being that the circumstances leading to the charges had to have been known in various parts of the force. If it wasn’t the force is in deeper somnolence than the public suspects.

The same day that the two police ranks appeared in court, another was also before the Chief Magistrate on a charge of obtaining money to have a charge dropped against a man who had been held for overloading his vehicle. There are several other examples which have been reported in recent months.

In the midst of all of these troubling events, the force is wont to reach for any occurrence it can use to burnish its image and so it was that it and its supporters seized upon a break-in at Pattensen on the East Coast of Demerara on July 24th which resulted in five burglars being shot dead by the police. Whoever alights upon this incident as an example of success does not understand policing – at least not policing in its true sense.

The attack by these five men on a gated compound in what is a developing residential area underlines the state of insecurity in this country for all householders. With several of the dead men having had criminal charges brought against them, the police were clearly unable to make them stick and were no doubt in the dark that these men were operating as a well-skilled gang.

Several of the five managed on July 24th to breach the secured compound and get into the premises. Matters later took a turn for the burglars after the caretaker for the premises said he called 911.  Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine told a press briefing on July 24th that the police responded after receiving a call via the 911 emergency system. As a result, Mr Ramnarine explained that a patrol, which was in close proximity, joined an anti-crime patrol and they journeyed to the scene. “An anti-crime patrol in ‘C’ Division, which was aware that a CID Headquarters plain clothes patrol was in the vicinity at Sophia, joined together and proceeded to the address given,” he told the press briefing.

This was all highly unusual and atypical particularly as the 911 call was made after 2 am.  Calls to 911 are a lottery. Just in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, a woman who was attacked by her lover reported calling 911 for help only to have the phone slammed on her. She said she pleaded “we need help now, now, now” but that appeal was to no avail. It is hoped that Minister Ramjattan and the police will ensure a full investigation of the handling of this particular call.

Apparently bristling with arms, the police patrol arrived at the Pattensen scene and according to Eve Leary, two of the men were engaged in the compound and shot dead. A third was caught in the crossfire as he exited the house and he, too, died. The other two burglars had been in the vehicle and they too were also shot dead. It is unclear why after hearing the first volley of gunfire that the men in the vehicle did not take evasive action or flee.

While the police must at all times take steps to protect themselves in a firefight, the deaths of the five burglars raise questions about the rules of engagement and whether the police had taken reasonable steps to ensure that lethal force was used only where necessary. The use of force and engagement rules were issues raised at the DFC in 2003. The Pattensen incident will raise questions similar to those that arose after three men were killed along the seawall in March this year after allegedly trailing a member of the public who had left a bank. This matter remains unresolved.

As the week ended, reports have now surfaced about the alleged torture of a suspect at the Whim Police Station. A thorough investigation must be done of this matter.

Representing the AFC in this coalition, Minister Ramjattan must be aware that his poor results with the prison service and the police force require public accountability and will undermine the ability of his party to hold its senior partner to account. 

More than six months on, President Granger inexplicably continues to keep a report by a British expert on security reform under wraps. It is unclear what his strategy is but three years after taking the oath of office, disarray continues in this sector and he must take full responsibility. A decision is soon to be made on a new Police Commissioner. A poor selection will deepen the problems in the force. Its handling of the matter pertaining to Minister Broomes was not reassuring and the ill-advised comment by the acting crime chief stands out.

Urgent and judicious steps remain necessary in improving the security climate.

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