Community/Police relationship should be based on respect - Investigative Specialist

Guyana Chronicle
February 25, 2001

HIS was a journey that took him down paths of knowledge, along highways of experience, through the labyrinths of technical and tedious crime detection and investigation, and even on the back street of death.

Ultimately, it has resulted in him gaining scholarship and a wealth of satisfaction in his chosen field of Criminal Investigation.

For 53-year-old Investigative Specialist, Mr. Errol VanNooten, it was his belief in civil decency, justice and a fair share in the justice system that propelled him along this path.

With some 21 years of service to the United States under his belt, VanNooten returned to Guyana six years ago and established `21st Century Investigations' which provides a range of services including investigative, survey and analysis.

"I thought that there was need of what I had to offer in Guyana," he told the Sunday Chronicle in an interview earlier this month.

VanNooten, who, at 20, left Guyana for the US to pursue his education and career, holds a Masters of Science Degree in Criminology, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Police Science and an Associate of Science Degree in Criminal Investigation.

He is certified in Forensic Investigative Techniques, having been trained by Israeli Police. His training allows him to analyse documents to determine which part of the narrative may be untrue. He can also listen to someone and determine if what is being said is truthful or not.

"One cannot hide the truth. I follow a basic concept - `everybody wants to tell the truth. They tell it in many ways'."

Mr. VanNooten is also qualified in Risk Analysis Survey and Deception Detection.

In the United States, he was employed with the Attorney General's Office in New York, as a Special Investigator.

He was assigned to work in the area of corruption in the Criminal Justice System. During that era of work, he was a part of the team that unearthed the `French Connection', which involved a cocaine and heroine ring.

Several persons, including those in the Criminal Justice System were convicted.

"There are some jobs that are sensitive that I cannot discuss," he said, but he mentioned his training and work with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

He was the Inspector General of New York City Department of Investigation for four years, and created history by being the first non-American to hold this post.

He served as Deputy Inspector General at New York City Department Juvenile Justice, and Chief Investigator in the Office of the Inspector General, New York City Fire Department.

Mr. VanNooten has directed numerous highly classified and sensitive investigative operations, and conducted several seminars on crime prevention and investigation.

He also appeared on CBS 60 Minutes to discuss the `Theft and Use of Stolen Identities'.

Reflecting on his career challenges in the US, he said: "Racism is always a factor, especially for someone not born in the US. But there was never an excuse...This made life a little more difficult in terms of attaining goals. But I was unyielding because I know that the job was given because of my qualifications. I never doubted myself because I was mandated to do the job."

Back in Guyana, Mr. VanNooten said since he opened his business, he has received two death threats. Asked if he was afraid, he said: "Absolutely not!" He said the only time he was afraid in the line of duty was in Vietnam as a member of the US Army.

"I was afraid about not knowing my enemy," he said.

He was wounded in combat in Vietnam, and was decorated with the US Purple Heart Award.

Pointing to the Purple Heart Award, he said: "It is an award that I could have done without. The price I had to pay to receive it was to high."

Considering his experiences of war, he said: "It's something you would not wish on your worst enemy."

The daily routine was one of survival.

"You lived for each day, never borrowed or lent money. Tomorrow was promised to no one. The experience caused me to have greater appreciation for life and liberty," he said.

His parents were unaware of his Vietnam encounter until he was wounded. He had asked that his parents not be notified of his mission, and that they only be contacted if he died.

Lack of tolerance for contradiction

VanNooten has some concerns with respect to the society, criminal justice system and its concomitant policies here.

This is the only society, he said, where he sees so much lack of tolerance for contradiction and difference of opinion, and deviation from the norm.

He believes that crime prevention and investigation should also be governed by sensitivity.

It is his view too that provision should be made for community relationships with the Police Force.

"Such relationships should thrive on respect and not fear. Intimidation goes so far and then people resist and rebel," he said.

In this regard, it is his view that the Guyanese working in the area of crime need to improve on the level of professionalism, and technical and supportive skills," he added.

"It is important that the Police Force be brought up to a level f having an even chance of dealing with the trend of criminal behaviour."

He said that training in technical and other areas is in dire need and that the organisation is tremendously under-equipped to do its jobs.

Nevertheless, it is his view that "the police department has good people with honourable intentions... I know that it is a struggle to manage an organisation that is not equipped to do what it is supposed to do."

He said that he has a professional relationship with the Government of Guyana and maintains ongoing dialogue with the hope that his input could result in change.(STACEY BESS)

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