The GDF and crime-fighting

Stabroek News
August 27, 2000

Last week President Jagdeo addressed the reservists of the 2nd Infantry Battalion Group who were undergoing their annual training course at Camp Seweyo on the Linden/ Soesdyke highway. He told them that the Government was engaged in discussions to chart ways in which the Guyana Defence Force could support the police in the fight against crime. He was quoted in our Friday edition as saying that it was important that "all the country's capabilities be used to tackle crime seriously," and that the military should be employed in the fight against narco-trafficking. The President went on to mention the need for the GDF to play a role in policing Guyana's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and referred to discussions currently taking place on plans to involve the military in civil projects.

None of this is new, of course. For some years now the Government has made no secret of the fact that it feels that the GDF should be deployed in the crime-fighting arena, and engage in development projects of one sort or another. When these notions first surfaced, all seemed quiet on the western and eastern fronts, and the administration appeared not to be altogether clear about what the military should really be doing. Given the events of the past few months, however, it seems to have recognized that the primary function of the GDF is the protection of our territory and our resources, both land and marine. Among other things, President Jagdeo has again said that the recapitalization of the army is definitely on the Government's agenda, which is unquestionably good news. However, the defence of territory and resources has not been substituted for crime-fighting; it has just been tagged on to the list.

There is no question that policing the EEZ should come within the GDF's purview, and presumably if the army undertakes some civil projects, no one is going to raise objections, although that cannot be its primary function. However, dealing with crime should not be a major focus of a military force. Its whole training and orientation are quite different from that of the police, and its relationship with citizens of entirely another order. When the army is normally sent in to deal with a civilian situation, it is as a last resort because the police are unable to cope. And that is as it should be. This is not a military state, and it gives the country a very poor image if the GDF is seen routinely on the streets performing police functions; in fact, it is particularly bad for a nascent tourist industry. It might be added, that the joint patrols which have been experimented with in the past, have had none too dramatic an effect on the crime situation anyway.

There is a further problem which no one likes to ventilate. There is no doubt that over the years elements in the police force have become corrupt. If army personnel are subjected in the field to the same pressures and inducements as the men in blue, they too will eventually become infected. The problem is particularly acute where the matter of drugs is concerned. Having said that, however, it is clearly the army which in general should be monitoring activities on our borders, rather than the police, and this will of necessity encompass tracking narco-operators as well. The details of how their operations will dovetail with those of other forces and agencies which normally deal with such matters, will have to be carefully worked out. In addition, of course, they will need the equipment to carry out any border mandate effectively.

The administration should perhaps review the matter of the GDF and crime-fighting again; certainly policing the coast and the city except in a crisis should not be on an army agenda.

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