Police need help to solve crimes

Stabroek News
May 21, 2001

The period since the March 19 general elections has seen an upsurge in many types of crimes including arson, murders, muggings, armed robberies laced with beatings of victims, shootings, destruction of public infrastructure etc.

In addition to these, are the countless execrable crimes committed on the East Coast of Demerara on hundreds of residents of the area and travellers by those engaged in blocking roads and by common criminals.

Many of these crimes have been committed with impunity and the perpetrators have escaped the not-so-long arm of the law. Others have not been investigated and for all intents and purposes will never be investigated and the public will never know the truth.

In fairness to our beleaguered police force we may be expecting too much of them given their poor salaries, punctured morale, inadequate training and numbers and limited resources. Moreover, the force has been buffeted by the political upheaval that has made its ethnicity an issue at times.

Nevertheless, an orderly, functional, law-abiding society requires a police force that can respond professionally and expeditiously to every single crime. It cannot afford one that is overwhelmed by a torrent of crimes because that it is a warm invitation for criminals to run amok. Too often, its critics say that the police force responds to this trauma by going after wanted men with the end result that a few bodies are produced in an attempt to cow criminals. Two wanted men died recently in encounters with the police and this charge has again been levelled at the force.

What is desperately required is for the new Jagdeo administration to take the dilemma of law enforcement seriously and respond to it in like manner and certainly more potently than the previous two PPP/Civic administrations have. It is an expenditure that should rank in the top five priorities for the upcoming budget. It may be a first, but the Minister of Finance should also be holding budget encounters with pivotal agencies like the police force which has had a longstanding wish list that remains to be filled. While the re-capitalisation of the Guyana Defence Force is getting much needed attention there isn't a similar movement towards refurbishing the police force. The needs are well known. Higher pay to allow policemen to make ends meet and resist corruptive influences, enhancing the investigative and forensic capacities of the lawmen, better training and improved weaponry are among the critical needs. These should be addressed in a structured manner. With these improvements, benchmarks can be set for the force to meet in terms of solving crimes and revamping its image.

At the same time, efforts should be made to make the force more accountable for the transgressions of its members and to grapple with the real concern of extra-judicial killings and what could be done to ameliorate this problem. The Police Complaints Authority and the Office of Professional Responsibility as currently structured are inadequate.

In the vein of their current productive dialogue rounds, the needs of the police force and what the government and opposition can do to support their work could very well be a topic for discussion between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte.

Given the tension and criminality that surfaced after the March 19 elections and the ethnic tinge they assumed, the vacuum created by the police inaction on crimes has led to dangerous and inflammatory suggestions about the alleged perpetrators and the motives behind these. The situation has also been worsened by the absolute lack of credible information from the police force on the status of the investigations, problems being encountered and the initiatives that would be taken to solve these. There is a long list of crimes that fall into this category.

Among the more striking ones are the murders of Donna McKinnon on Robb Street, Bemchand Barran, Mervyn Barran and Dhanpaul Jagdeo in the East Coast Demerara backlands, Bediwattie Tikchand during an armed robbery on April 17 and David Kissoondai at the hands of a gunman in a hold up on May 9. Added to these are the fires of April 9 that consumed a swathe of the commercial district, the one that obliterated the GRL building on April 12 and the attempted arson at St George's Cathedral the same day and Saturday morning's gutting of the MMA/ADA administrative building at Onverwagt. Information exists that suggests these are cases of arson yet the force has not even produced a suspect neither has it to date said anything tangible about the state of investigations into these.

The high-calibre, hair-raising shooting in and around Congress Place and volleys that were fired at the police when they responded to unrest at Buxton are also incidents that have to be investigated because of their dangerous implications. A betting man can lose a tidy sum if he expects these latter two cases to be elucidated.

Other crimes that have gone unpunished include the vandalism of public infrastructure such as the burning of the Belladrum Bridge and attacks on water installations. The beating of the two elections workers which was the trigger for the East Coast unrest has also not been addressed.

The list is too long and is a symptom of poor policing work that has obtained for decades and is best epitomised by the yet to be solved murder of Monica Reece in 1993.

Considering the turmoil of the past two months we can't afford not to have a well-equipped and properly functioning police force.