Corentyne residents say protest action vindicated

By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
August 5, 2001

Residents of central Corentyne villages, who staged an anti-crime protest in June, said last week that they had been vindicated since crime had all but disappeared from the district.

On June 2, scores of disgruntled central Corentyne residents drawn from Albion and the nearby villages of Belvedere, Nigg, and Hampshire began a picketing exercise outside the Albion Police Station calling for an investigation into the operations of the station and for firearm licences to be issued to selected individuals.

"We are satisfied with the results of our protest in June," said one elderly man. And an elderly woman was full of praise for the new batch of police ranks at the Albion Station. "They have been doing a fine job since they arrived in the area." According to one man who participated in the demonstrations, "if we did not protest nothing would have changed. It was because of the protest that we are now living and sleeping without fear of bandits."

The exercise came in the wake of a series of violent robberies by armed bandits in the district. The demonstration continued over the following weekend and culminated on June 4, after it turned violent and a demonstrator was shot and killed during an attempt to burn the police station.

The demonstrations forced the intervention of President Bharrat Jagdeo who visited the area and responded to some of the demands of the protesters. All of the ranks at the Albion Police Station and the Rose Hall Town Outpost were later transferred.

A 40-member Crime Prevention Committee was established to look at ways and means of curbing criminal activity in the district. A Quick Reaction Squad, which was stationed in New Amsterdam, was transferred to Albion and was provided with a 4x4 Land Cruiser, while young unemployed men were urged to join the police force and/or community policing groups.

A senior police source confirmed that the situation in the area was now "generally quiet with no reports of any major crimes in the area since the protest." The source complimented the new ranks at the Albion station and expressed satisfaction with the vibrancy of the community policing groups.

However, Stabroek News has learnt that the community policing groups which were established shortly after the protests have all become defunct. Police patrols are conducted during the day by ranks on foot and bicycles and from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am by vehicle, while the station has been strengthened by additional ranks since the protest. Apart from the vehicle at Albion, vehicles have also been assigned to Whim and Corriverton.

A source close to the Crime Prevention Committee told this newspaper that it was now satisfied with the rate at which training was being conducted for potential rural constables and persons recommended to use firearms. Training of the first batch is expected to be completed this week at the various stations along the Corentyne Coast.

The three-week training is being conducted two days per week and involves approximately 30 persons. According to the source, the committee has recommended to the police that at least four to five persons should be licensed in the large areas to use a firearm and about nine appointed as rural constables.

The rural constables are expected to be sworn-in within another week or two. At Rose Hall, the community is paying a ten-member team to patrol the town at night. According to the source, the group has made two arrests since it was established.

However, on July 26, armed bandits robbed two Fyrish Village families of a total of some $350,000 in cash. Two of the men involved have been arrested and charged.

Meanwhile, the Crime Prevention Committee is expected to meet Divisional Commander, Assistant Commissioner Paul Slowe, within a week. According to a police source, additional patrols are being conducted along the Corentyne Coast. But disappointment has been expressed over the poor response to a recent police recruitment drive in the region.

Over recent months, the region witnessed a number of demonstrations and picketing exercises over a variety of issues. These included sugar workers over wage increases, hire-car operators over the state of the roads in New Amsterdam, Black Bush farmers over flooding in the polder, bauxite workers over a proposal by Alcoa to take over Bermine, Number 57 and 58 villagers over the unavailability of potable water and students of the Vryman's Erven High School over the arrest of a teacher accused of breaking the elbow of a fellow student. And on West Coast Berbice, retrenched MMA/ADA employees last month picketed the authority's offices over payment of benefits and the manner in which they were dismissed.