The rule of the gangs

Stabroek News
July 19, 1999

Even as the police launch sweeping operations up and down the coast to flush out criminals and to wrest dominance of the streets, yards and houses from them, it is becoming more and more evident that the task they face is beyond them.

The last few weeks have seen a resurgence of the kind of calculated brazenness that was the hallmark of months of terror last year before stepped up army/police patrols.

In the aftermath of the 55-day public service strike and the lawlessness that suffused it, there has been an upsurge in high profile criminal attacks.

It is the equivalent of a pressure cooker where at the slightest release of control, criminals spring into action with deadly and frightening results.

This continuous struggle for supremacy between the police and the underworld will frequently result in eruptions of horrible crimes and daring challenges to law and order unless there is a fundamental shift in police tactics.

Over the last few weeks, three robberies have amply demonstrated this. The first was the murder of Sophia businessman Richard King on July 7 in an orgy of terror during which five dwellings were besieged by bandits pretending to be policemen.

The second was on July 14 in bright daylight, on perhaps the busiest thoroughfare in Georgetown, when for five minutes marauders held the outgunned City Constabulary at bay by firing at its headquarters indiscriminately while carting off millions of dollars from the Commerce House Cambio on the opposite side of Regent Street.

The third occurred on July 16 when an Industry family was set upon and robbed by six men. A sixty-three-year-old woman was shot in her knees and a fusillade from the bandits kept would-be rescuers at bay.

There are four spine-tingling elements to these attacks. The first is the high-level of planning involved. These are not random one or two-person assaults. They were launched by gangs which gathered detailed and precise information on their hapless prey and executed to near flawless perfection complete with lookouts, covering fire and escape routes.

Another troubling characteristic is that these gangs know with certainty the window of opportunity for their operations without fear of an effective police response. This is especially amazing for the last two incidents since it was known that the police had stepped up patrols and had conducted a massive security operation in the Sophia/Cummings Lodge area just days before.

Thirdly, in none of these reprehensible attacks was there anything remotely resembling an interception by the police even though for the last incident at Industry the police said there had been mass patrols on the East Coast at the same time to thwart crimes. The police arrived long after the bandits had comfortably escaped.

Fourthly, apprehension of suspects and the filing of charges are as sparse as ever. Despite a tantalising nickname clue in the King murder on July 7, no-one has yet been held by the police and it is clear that the criminals have well covered hideouts.

Where this leaves the country is where it has been for a number of years and the point has been belaboured in these columns and will continue to be as peace of mind is surely one of the top issues of concern to Guyanese.

Of the lengthy list of challenges facing the police, two stand out from the most recent violence. Well-organised gangs with heavy weaponry are arrayed against the police and just as the gangs are doing their homework, the police also need to get on the scoreboard by infiltrating these and closing them down before they strike. Moreover, regardless of the proximity of police stations, the police lack early warning mechanisms to alert it of bandit activity. It has to redress this deficiency and devise a system for a rapid response throughout the country.

At the moment, the criminals are setting the agenda on their terms. The police clearly need professional help whether or not they want it and it's the government's responsibility to ensure that they get it.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples