The Guyana Police Force needs a Behavioural Science Unit

Dear Editor,

Recent articles in the press in relation to the behaviour of law enforcement officers have titillated me to again make another clarion call for the establishment of a Behaviour Science Unit in the Guyana Police Force.

Editor, please permit me to flash back on some issues and concerns I raised in the press about the behaviour of law enforcement officers and to posit some new thinking. No longer can you swear a policeman, give him a badge and send him on the beat to perform duty. No longer can a policeman depend on his physical brawn and his political connections to survive on the job. A policeman must be adequately trained. It is imperative that he understand and appreciate the importance of good behaviour in order to efficiently and effectively carry out his mandate as set out in Section 3 (2) of the Police Act Chapter 16: 01 and what society expects from its protectors.

During 1973 Harold Russell and Allan Beigel wrote, “The importance of understanding behaviour in the training of professional policemen is indisputable. Behaviour is the major phenomenon that the police officer must deal with. He must not only deal with the behaviour of criminals, but also with the behaviour of the general public, the behaviour of his family, and his own behaviour. He can no longer regard the study of behaviour as the sole concern of the psychologist and psychiatrist. He must learn more about behaviour and the behavioural science in order to effectively and safely carry out his job.” Those words were relevant 45 years ago,  they are even more apposite today for law enforcement officers.

A good starting point to assess behaviour in the police force is at the recruitment level. The present recruitment process is not geared to identify inappropriate or more so psychological behaviour. It appears to cater for quantity rather than quality. An applicant who is highly qualified academically but is psychopathic, and others with unacceptable behavioural traits can easily slip into the force because the recruitment system does not address behaviour. To prevent this unwanted entry into the GPF the police should establish Assessment Centres as part of their recruitment strategy. At the centres applicants are exposed to a series of activities or scenarios where behaviour is assessed by a team of trained assessors. The Assessment Centre is nothing new. It was used by the Allies and the Axis during World War II to train their spies. Tinsley (2002) contends, “The assessment centre was ‒ and still is ‒ one of the best methods available for selecting suitable candidates for either employment or advancement in law enforcement agencies.” This process will produce fewer recruits but will result in a better quality of rank being enlisted in the force. However, it will put the police in a predicament as they attempt to fill the existing vacancies. It is quality versus quantity. Which one will prevail? According to Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan the police are understaffed by over 600 ranks. This figure will increase significantly when one takes into consideration First Oil and its security implications, the eminent need to properly secure our western border and other emerging security issues and concerns. All have serious manpower implications.

In assessing behaviour one must not only deal with the entry level ranks of the force but with members in all the divisions and branches. Both junior and senior ranks have displayed inappropriate and sometimes shocking behaviour. Such conduct will continue to occur if not nipped in the bud. Hence, the need for corrective action. Here is where a Behavioural Science Unit can play a major role in identifying police officers with behavioural problems and establish an Early Warning System (EWS) for providing intervention to correct those problems. According to Arnold (2001) , “Early Warning Systems ( EWS) were developed as proactive tools and have been utilised by some law enforcement agencies with beneficial results. These systems have, to a limited degree, provided a ‘heads up’ regarding behavioural problems with police officers and afford the agency an opportunity to implement remedial action.”  However, as Rhyons and Brewster caution: “An early warning system is not a substitute for good supervision. Instead, it is a tool designed to help good supervisors become better.”

Unesco’s imperatives for learning rests firmly on four pillars and is applicable to the GPF. They are: Learn to live together; learn to be; learn to do and learn to learn. The Behavioural Science Unit can sit nicely on those pillars in its effort to address behaviour in the GPF. Therefore, the following areas and many more recommended by Unesco must be addressed with the police: effective communication, conflict resolution, anger management, cultural sensitivity,  cultural awareness, self esteem, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, skills, capacity to act, ability to apply knowledge, comprehension, ability to research and analyse, problem solving and people skills. These areas if sufficiently inculcated in the minds of all members of the force will go a far way towards promoting acceptable behaviour by ranks at all levels of the GPF. Hence, the opportunity to foster greater public confidence in the police.

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ret’d)

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