Police force needs a vibrant new Commissioner
Stabroek News
April 18, 2002

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Dear Editor,

When former Commissioner of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) Laurie Lewis retired, most Guyanese saw a glimmer of hope for the institution. Laurie Lewis ran the force to the ground and to unprecedented levels of unpopularity and ineptitude. He presided over the degeneration of the institution into the bankrupt, rough entity that it is today. Under Lewis' leadership, police were taught that executing people brings respect and fear of the force. No one was ever investigated, disciplined or prosecuted for police killings. Rather the GPF rewarded its criminal elements under the guise of "fighting crime." Consequently unruliness and corruption became endemic.

The "black clothes Police" (the Target Squad) made a mockery of the constitution. They shot, violated, brutalized and murdered people with impunity. And they seemed answerable to no one. Sadly, Superintendent Fraser came to epitomize such lawlessness. His killing, though tragic and criminal, is cause for the force to undergo serious introspection and reform, so as to save police officers lives. Police officers do not live in a vacuum. They are members of a wider society in which there are elements capable of irrational behavior and reacting to police abuse in accordance with their own interpretation of justice.

The government, who used Commissioner Lewis as its instrument for achieving political stability, wholeheartedly countenanced these police abuses. The PPP government happily played the police against urban, non-supporters who protested against the regime. Hence, public hatred for the police has become intrinsic in the society, and community - police relations virtually evaporated. We did not need a rocket scientist to forecast that with increased criminal elements pervading the society, along with a grossly unpopular, inept, untrained, ill-equipped police force - accountable to no one, vigilantism would reign. Laurie Lewis and the PPP government therefore bear responsibility for the current crisis which plagues the GPF.

Worse, allowing Floyd Mc Donald to lead the force at this time is a travesty. The government obviously has set him up to fail. The GPF is an organization beleaguered by incompetent leadership, lack of resources, inadequate personnel, low wages, corruption and low morale. Mr. Mc Donald is a good and decent gentleman, who I happen to know. However, he is not Police Commissioner material. He does not exhibit excellent management, national security, law enforcement, academic or people skills, all necessary for the job of Police Commissioner. He seems to have no firm convictions of his own. Often he, wittingly or unwittingly, allows himself to be led rather than lead or assert his authority as a constitutional officer. Unfortunately, he appears to be even more "rig-ma-role" than his predecessor. The force cannot reform itself under such uninspiring, shallow leadership.

The nation has no confidence in the GPF, for it lacks integrity. The GPF statement it issued claiming that Shaka Blair, who was killed by the Police last week, shot at the police before he was killed, was false and slanderous. This falsehood was refuted by the medical examiner as well as numerous eyewitnesses. Mr. Mc Donald must tell us who issued the statement. Did he authorize its release? Who ever issued that false release must be disciplined. That officer, along with Mr. Blair's killers, should be relieved of his/her duties and prosecuted, respectively. President Jagdeo must disband the Target Squad and a commission of inquiry set up into its operations. And its members should be made accountable for the executions it committed over the last twenty-four months. No civilized society can accept Police killing people casually, with no inquest. We are sick of the false, frivolous and monotonous statements that emanate from Police Headquarters, claiming that the individuals executed were killed after they fired at or attacked the police.

The Guyanese people deserve better service and protection form the GPF. The government must therefore immediately ensure that the force is adequately funded so as to restore its integrity, professionalism and law enforcement capabilities. Guyana needs a police force that is accountable under the rule of law, not a force that is above the law. Guyana needs a competent force, one that inspires confidence and forges good relations with the citizenry. To this end, President Jagdeo must appoint a new Commissioner of Police who can bring about the reforms necessary. The Government must solicit assistance form the US and the UK to help train professional police officers who can then rebuild the GPF. If these reforms are not implemented swiftly, the GPF will continue its downward spiral. And the axis of crime and violence will continue to be perpetuated by the vicious cycle of police executions, followed by retaliatory attacks on the force and police killings.

Yours faithfully,

Rickford Burke

Executive Member

Association of Caribbean American

Elected Officials & Leaders