There are two issues pertaining to the Guyana Police Force (GPF)’s engagement with citizens that recently appeared in the news media which compel me to write this letter. The first incident is in relation to the fatal shooting of Mr Mark Johnson, a security guard in Berbice, who at the time of being shot by a police officer, was reported to have been intoxicated. The second incident has to do with the alleged brutal beating of Shamar Tanner in America Street, Georgetown.
Bearing in mind that at present, the force is in the process of implementing its reform agenda the above-mentioned incidents could further tarnish the image of the force in the eyes of the public.
This concern was borne out in a letter written by Karan Chand, published in the March 12th 2019 edition of the Stabroek News captioned `Police must place more emphasis on non- lethal approaches in confrontations’. I wish at this time to pledge my support for the observations and recommendations contained in Chand’s letter. Mr Chand in his remarks presented a very objective description of the police’s dangerous and reckless use of deadly force. This is a chronic problem, which if not rooted out, can become a permanent characteristic of police behaviour in Guyana. It is my hope that more citizens, including members of the GPF hierarchy, will lend their public support to Chand’s appeal for reform in this area of police/citizen relations.
The newspapers’ reports of the savage beating of young Mr. Tanner, allegedly by ranks of the police force on March 8th 2019 in America Street and the explanation given in the official police statement which denied that the police were involved in the beating and attributed injuries to his face to a piece of iron thrown by a man, is not convincing.
I saw TV coverage of the incident. Tanner’s body displayed multiple injuries that appeared not to be consistent with the police story. Since the force has launched an investigation I am prepared to hold my final judgement on this “nasty story” for the completion of that investigation.
These two incidents have demonstrated how challenging is the task of reforming the GPF, given its track record, on the use of force, including deadly force that has resulted in the demise of a number of citizens.
In closing, I wish to acknowledge the difficulties Commissioner of Police, Leslie James and his team are faced with in their quest to reform the GPF. Their success or failure to effectively curtail the deterioration in the police/citizen relationship depends on the extent to which they are able to instil in members of the force the need for a more humane approach to crime fighting and respect for the fundamental rights of citizens, qualities which are sorely lacking today. Unless and until this is done the reluctance by members of the public to cooperate with the police will continue to decline.