The police and crime

Stabroek News
February 2, 1998

In her television interview `This Week with the President', President Jagan partially attributed an "upsurge" in criminal activities to the fall-out from the numerous political demonstrations in the city which culminated in the gross horrors of January 12 and 13 in particular.

"The lawlessness led to more lawlessness. We saw people attacked in the streets. We saw daring robberies. We saw invasion of property. The criminal community was encouraged and this has got to stop. Our people demand better protection and the criminals must be chased off the streets", she told the GTV programme.

The President is right that the conditions created by the marches provided a fertile medium in which the underworld unleashed a wave of terror on the streets and emboldened those seeking to take advantage of the situation.

However, the pattern of crime in both its intensity and profile pre-dated the political unrest within which it found sustenance. This pattern existed from 1992 and beyond and really shows no signs of abating. It is important that this be understood less a sense of unreality creeps into the situation.

It becomes stranger when the police trot out statistics such as those provided by Deputy Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald on Friday to Home Affairs Minister and Prime Minister-designate Sam Hinds. Those figures according to Mr McDonald showed that the rate of serious or indictable crimes for 1997 compared to 1996 was down by 6.5 per cent in the Georgetown area and nine per cent overall. Those figures must have some real basis but the average man-in-the street will undoubtedly differ because of what exists on the ground.

The reason is that the high profile criminals continue to operate with impunity whenever they want and there is a growing spectre of narco-terrorism - suspected contract killings and kidnappings which further dwarf the police force. It is these crimes by which citizens will judge the adequacy of their personal security.

Secondly, a significant number of these cases remain unsolved because the police lack the ability and wherewithal to track down the perpetrators and accumulate evidence to successfully prosecute. The list is an embarrassing one were it to seek its origins in the Monica Reece fiasco. If one were only to look at the last few months and consider the assassinations of two gas station owners (Unity and Coverden) and a businessman (Kitty), two ferocious attacks in the Eccles Housing Scheme and of course the string of bombings in Georgetown, one might begin to understand the dilemma the country faces. None of these has been solved. Two others, the robbery of the GNCB Anna Regina branch and a kidnapping at Charity resulted in some persons being apprehended and others shot. But the last two incidents showed how ill-equipped the police were to prevent the crimes.

There are some hard questions which this administration will have to face in relation to law enforcement. It must come to grips with why the force has been unable to satisfactorily execute its mandate. The previous PPP/Civic administration appeared unwilling to invest in getting to the core of the problem even when joint army-police patrols had to be instituted to cope with a sharp descent into the same type of lawlessness.

The force remains underpaid, undermanned and ill-equipped and this is one area the government can make an immediate difference. In terms of its qualitative approach to its work, is the force up to it? An insightful letter by CRB Edwards in the January 31 edition of this newspaper raises some important issues in relation to police training which should not go unanswered.

The time has come to set basic goals by which to judge the force. Here is one. The bombings which shook the country last month and created immeasurable fear must be solved. They should not simply be allowed to fade into uneasy memory. We repeat again that if the police are unable to discharge their responsibilities in this matter, expert help should be found to tell us at least what type of threat Guyanese face from this menace.

It is also time for the government to allow expert (local or foreign) analysis of the approaches and operation of the police force so that suitable remedies can be prescribed.