The police and public trust

Recently, the President of Guyana, having consulted with the Leader of the Opposition, thereafter made a departure from the norm in naming a new Commissioner of Police who was not one of the more senior contenders, nor the acting Commissioner of Police. Nearly a month ago, Mr Granger had made this defining statement: “I don’t give orders to the Commissioner of Police, but I want somebody who is unbribable. I want somebody who is intelligent and (I) want somebody who is committed to carrying out the programme of security sector reform, who has the initiative and who can generate public trust.”

Indeed, susceptibility to bribery, not trusted by the public, and in need of comprehensive reform, are some of the major unresolved issues shadowing the Guyana Police Force (GPF) for many years now. In recent years, several police officers have been arraigned on criminal charges including murder, and it would be safe to say that building public trust will be one of the biggest challenges to the GPF going forward.

The President again departed from the norm when he also appointed four new Deputy Commissioners in the areas of Operations, Administration, Law Enforcement, and the Special Branch Intelligence Unit. In this move the President has given a semblance of structure to the GPF where previously none seemed to exist, and he has set the stage for the GPF to function as an organised unit with an appropriate line management system with appropriate responsibilities spread along the chain of command. However, the question of how the entire organizational structure is bifurcated along the line management system is a question that the GPF must answer with dispatch if it is to avoid conflicting lines of authority which can obliterate the concept of unity of command.

The President also spoke to the issue of “carrying out the programme of security sector reform” and the lack of implementation of badly needed reform specifically in the GPF, has been a major bugbear affecting the public’s perception of the GPF and its own functioning which has been very dysfunctional in some areas with open conflicts between officers glaringly apparent to the public. This reform paper has been with the government since the beginning of the year, but we are learning that a copy will only now be made available to the Leader of the Opposition to facilitate its tabling in the National Assembly before the end of the year. The government may well argue that it has a lot on its plate, and indeed this seems to be the case, but 12 months does appear to be quite a long time to commence a discussion on the measures to be implemented in as important a matter as security sector reform.

Nevertheless, the very important act of appointing a substantive Commissioner of Police has been achieved, and this has been done with no dissenting voice from the Leader of the Opposition. This does give the new Commissioner the confidence to go about the important task of reforming the structure of the GPF and increasing accountability for actions taken at all levels with both internal disciplinary procedures and criminal procedures being implemented without fear or favour on defaulters throughout the structure.

The public’s trust is something that the GPF needs to be able to command and not demand, as it is clear that the GPF cannot function effectively without the general public having confidence in the professional capability and confidentiality of the force. Recently, the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs remarked that there were insufficient funds to implement witness protection and whistle blower legislation, the Protected Disclosures and Witness Protection Act, but still held the view about the general public that, “They could blow the whistle, they have normal protection under the law and anyone who wants to blow the whistle, feel free to come forward and blow the whistle.” The Minister was obviously unaware of the contradiction of acknowledging having a law but being unable to implement it, on the one hand, while pointing the public to “normal protection” of another law,  ignoring the public’s known distrust of the GPF and the fear of having no protection.

This kind of tongue-in-cheek refusal to acknowledge the reality of the public’s concerns with the GPF and the full system of justice in Guyana does not augur well for the ability of the system to acquire the trust of the general public. That the Minister could use lack of funding as a reason for not implementing whistle blower legislation and in the same breath call on the public to “feel free to come forward and blow the whistle” is for him to have a disconnect with the set of circumstances and deep-rooted systemic dysfunctions in the criminal justice system as a whole, which led to the necessity for drafting whistle blower and witness protection legislation.

The new Commissioner of Police and his team of managers would be advised to “take the bull by the horns” and immediately address the issue of the lack of public trust that the GPF faces in an honest and forthcoming manner, being upfront with the public at all times while seeking to weed out the bad eggs and reform the force from the inside.

All this must be done without waiting for the politicians to complete their assessment and give impact to the implementation of the security sector reform programme. The public will see the difference and be grateful, and hopefully start to trust the GPF.

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