There are pervasive reports of police shakedowns

Dear Editor,

Your newspaper reported  police commissioner Mr David Ramnarine as saying that there has been a `Significant drop in complaints against cops – Ramnarine’  (SN Jul 19).  Everywhere I travelled in Guyana, every driver of every vehicle I utilized in June and July complained about police shakedowns for a bribe.  So the news that complaints against police are down could not be accurate. There are good and bad police, but the latter is more prevalent. There is widespread police misconduct especially relating to graft. One common joke as repeated throughout my travels by drivers is the police would ask “Do you want write (a ticket) or left (leave a bribe)”.

Every minute in Guyana, drivers are harassed and some even ridiculed if they don’t give a bribe. I observed some officers routinely breaking the law.  Some threaten drivers with “lock up” or being taken to the station if they don’t offer a bribe or if they speak back to the police officers. That is against the law.

One businessman told me during an interview of Guyanese for a study I am conducting, that he was stopped by a policeman for “speeding”. The officer insinuated he wanted a bribe. The businessman resisted and was issued a summons. The policeman then proceeded to ask him: “How do you feel? Are you happy now that you got a ticket”? The businessman said he asked the officer what kind of questions are these? The businessman stated he asked the officer: “Do you have any sense? Think about the questions you ask me! Will anyone be happy for getting a ticket? Which school you went to?”

The two questions from the police officer speak volumes about the level of intelligence and integrity of elements of the police force.

The drivers and the businessman did not file any report against the police for fear of victimization, or harassment, or additional summons. So none of these incidents was reported. People don’t wish to be bothered with “wasting time” in court or filing a complaint that takes away precious time from work. They complained that often no action is taken against the police or he gets a slap on the wrist, and then the complainant is harassed by the cop against whom the complaint was filed. This may help to explain why the numbers of complaints against police are down. A more accurate figure would be hundreds of “unreported complaints” a day. The authorities should go around and talk to the ordinary drivers. And yes, the ordinary, lower class  drivers are targeted because the “big guys” have connections to resist the bribe takers. The ordinary folks have no such connections.

Action needs to be taken against police misconduct. The Ministry should look at how other countries address the issue of police misbehaviour. There have been a lot of complaints (of bias and brutality in particular) against police in the US, Canada, UK – countries where large numbers of Guyanese are settled. The police departments in these countries have outfitted police officers with recording cameras.  The media (TV, in particular) also play an important role by exposing police misconduct. When complaints are filed, evidence would have been recorded to prosecute the cops. And yes, unlike in Guyana, cops are prosecuted (when evidence exists) if they break the laws in seeking to enforce the laws. Police are also fined and some prosecuted and jailed. Some are even sued by civilians and have to come up with compensation from their pockets (not the state). Perhaps, it is time for the police to be outfitted with cameras to record their behaviour. And people should start taking the police to court for compensation for harassment, victimization, brutality, and other forms of misconduct. This would deter misbehaviour and hopefully bring an end to corruption.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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