The May 9th edition of Stabroek News reflected the continuing grave challenges that the Guyana Police Force (GPF) faces in relation to the lawful conduct of its members. There is yet no sign that the police hierarchy or external assistance is having a sufficiently positive impact.
In one case, three policemen appeared in court in connection with charges that stemmed from incidents at Makari Top, Mazaruni River. One cop was charged with the rape of a Venezuelan woman and he and two of his colleagues faced three counts of demanding with menace from three complainants. The alleged object of their demand was raw gold.
The accused are entitled to due process and the court will decide their fate. The charges however underline the serious allegations which members of the police force continue to face. There are other troubling aspects of this case. These charges pertain to events that occurred between May 1 and May 30, 2018. Did it really take the police a year to investigate and bring charges against three of their members particularly in relation to the matter of rape? The Office of Professional Responsibility of the GPF should be answerable as to why it took an entire year for this investigation as the lengthy delay defeats the delivery of justice.
In a region where there have been growing concerns about the trafficking of Guyanese women and children and economic migrants from Venezuela, serious questions will arise as to what role the police are playing in this scourge. Criminality aside, are the policemen and women in the interior areas adequately trained on the signs of human trafficking and when to intercede on behalf of suspected victims? Were the alleged traffickers of these complainants identified and charged? In this case, the three policemen have been charged with robbing Trafficking in Persons (TIP) victims and worse, one was allegedly raped. Eve Leary has serious problems to address here.
Given their vulnerabilities as TIP victims, it is unlikely that the complainants in this matter will hang around to testify against the cops that stand accused. TIP victims are especially vulnerable and at risk of further exploitation. What steps have the police force taken to ensure that TIP victims are prepared to testify in defence of their rights particularly when the accused are policemen? With the robust gold mining industry, the interior will remain the locus of human trafficking of Guyanese from impoverished and vulnerable communities and those who are fleeing the depredations in Venezuela. How is the police force combating TIP in this sprawling area and ensuring that its members don’t commit these crimes?
In the same edition of the newspaper, it was reported that a special lance corporal, Carlos Alleyne was severely beaten at Special Constabulary Headquarters allegedly by one of his colleagues. According to his post-mortem examination, the Lance Corporal sustained major injuries. At last word his family remained in the dark about the circumstances of his death and the law enforcement authorities have not said much.
The death of this lance corporal must be rigorously investigated and the person or persons who inflicted injuries on him must be brought to justice. A major problem here for the Ministry of Public Security is the lawlessness that occurs in places of confinement be it police lockups or the prisons. Cases continue to arise of confined persons being targeted. Who else was present while the Lance Corporal was being assaulted and why was there no intervention? Did the occurrence book at the Special Constabulary Headquarters reflect a horrific attack on LC Alleyne? If so what steps were taken and why has the perpetrator/s not been charged. If the attack was not logged in the Occurrence Book, it means that there is a blue wall of silence around cases of this type and that must be broken.
The third case in the newspaper of May 9th was that involving a policeman who was accused of stealing a SIM card from another policeman during a football training session. While not a serious crime, the charge impinges on uprightness, integrity and lawful conduct. Recruits to the force represent a microcosm of the general society that they are drawn from. Are the police recruiters making headway in addressing the longstanding problem of traffic recruits and others slipping easily into corrupt acts in their road duties?
As part of its policing reform measures, the APNU+AFC government contracted UK security expert Russell Combe to prepare a report. His work has since been completed and in one of his last interviews with the press he said that the stage has been set for the reforms. Despite having delivered an interim report in July 2017 and a final report in January 2018, there is no sign of an organized programme by the Ministry of Public Security and the GPF to address corruption and criminality in the police force. Routine admonitions from the hierarchy to junior ranks about transgressions won’t cut it. Real reforms would require lifting the requirements for entry to the force and addressing equally important areas like pay and conditions and a zero tolerance policy for corruption.
The problems for the force have been further compounded by the appalling finding that one of the premier policing agencies, the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) is rife with corruption and malpractices. How the police force and the ministry handle this scandal will say a lot about whether Mr Combe’s reform plan has a chance of succeeding. It is unclear why the police have not yet acted decisively on the report about SOCU as a long road lies ahead in addressing criminality and corruption in the police force.