Community policing here is a success story -UK adviser

Stabroek News
August 25, 1999

An adviser from the United Kingdom says community policing here is a real success story but noted that concerns have been voiced about possible illegal activities.

The United Kingdom's Caribbean Regional Police Adviser, Paul Matthias said that the longevity of the community policing schemes, the clear ownership by the communities of these schemes as well as the leadership and drive provided by individuals contradicted the research findings on community policing schemes in Europe and the United States.

Matthias who carried out a review of the Guyana Police Force at the request of the government and Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis, also described community policing as the jewel in the crown of a force which has a "poor public image".

Community policing, according to Matthias' report, is an initiative of Lewis. "The sheer scale and ingenuity of schemes is impressive in terms of the number of people involved, of the different age groups and the different settings from inner city to urban to rural areas."

Also it notes that the "maturity of patrol groups of volunteers and the organisational skills of station management teams (made up of the community members) provided details of the success of the initiative; and gave clear insight into the potential capacity to increase security and safety in Guyana, resulting in a reduction in fear of crime, more emphasis on crime prevention and the presentation of a more positive image of the police."

Community policing was introduced as part of the measures to address the high level of serious crime and now appears, according to the report, to have generated "an attitude of working together (not in isolation) to tackle and defeat such crimes."

In the meetings with the community groups Matthias attended during his visit, he said that fear of crime was the most frequent reason for involvement in community policing schemes and that these persons "demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility for dealing with the problem and working with the police."

At these meetings, the report said, "a number of innovative schemes were described by various groups that covered urban as well as rural areas, middle class and deprived classes, and were aimed at vulnerable groups such as the young, women, peasants, farmers and the elderly."

Also, it noted that "the energy and commitment displayed by a number of community schemes had resulted in the purchase or use of vehicles, the drafting of resolutions and plans of action that led to directed patrolling.

"There were clearly good relationships and a sense of professional partnerships with officers at local stations."

However, Matthias's report echoes concerns which were raised at some of the public meetings, noting in particular suspicion in some quarters that some community groups are a cover to protect illegal activities.

"Of particular alarm would be the risk that such groups could become 'vigilantes' acting as judge and jury and punishing those judged by them to be guilty."

The report notes too the added criticism "that some people have deliberately started or joined such groups to gain access to quicker issue of firearms licences" and stresses the need for the imposition of "sensible and structured control" of these policing groups.

The report also raised the issue of the legal powers under which the community policing groups operate. "What legal protection have they when 'on duty' patrolling on foot or in a vehicle or boat? Are they subject to discipline and complaints procedures? ·What if they are licensed to carry a firearm? Do they have legal rights and civil claims if injured or assaulted while on duty?

However, the report stated that "despite these concerns community policing is a real success story and needs to be shared with the people of Guyana and the wider Caribbean region. Equally, safeguards of controls and professional management by the police of all schemes must take place so that this exciting development remains a success."

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples