Public Relations Unit of the Guyana Police Force needs to be urgently strengthened
Stabroek News
April 24, 2002

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Dear Editor,

After much contemplation during the last few days, I have decided to make some observations about the relationship between the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the media.

During the opening of this year's Annual Police Officers Conference, I thought that the observation by the President Mr Bharrat Jagdeo that the GPF's public relations needed much improvement was justifiable.

Though administrative efforts have been since made to remedy the situation, there is hardly any noticeable change in the modus operandi of that vital unit of the force.

The GPF must continue to share the greater portion of responsibility for the dissemination of unconfirmed information and even rumours by news media and media personalities. This charge is being laid against the police because it continues to pay little regard to immediacy and accuracy as the most important twin elements of news.

Almost immediately after major incidents or police operations, journalists very often cannot get the official account from the GPF's public relations unit because of either one or a combination of the following: (1) they do not know (2) they heard but they do not have the information yet (3) they are now doing a statement and it has to go to the Commissioner of Police for approval (4) other persons in the unit answer but they do not have information because either Inspector Smith, Assistant Superintendent Ramnarine and more recently Mr Royston King are not in the office (5) one of those officials is there but cannot come to the phone now because he does not want to be disturbed.

With respect to the latter, on Monday, April 22,2002; a call was made for Mr King but the female official who answered the phone said that Mr King was busy and could not come to the phone. She insisted on having a phone number so that a call can be returned but a situation was put to her that suppose the caller had information at his disposal that he needed clarification and confirmation before airing on television. Her reply was "I don't have time for that" and she hung up the phone abruptly without even saying "bye" or "thank you for calling."

The recent decision by the GPF to disseminate video copies of statements by the Commissioner of Police Mr Floyd Mc Donald must be considered an insult to journalists and the public at large. Instead of cultivating transparency and openness and accessibility, it is a cheap attempt at shielding the Commissioner of Police from the scrutiny of the media through interviews and press conferences on matters of heightened interest and a controversial nature. On rare occasions, he may have been door-stepped during public activities and agreed to an interview. In terms of access by the media, former Commissioner of Police Mr Laurie Lewis was outstanding in this regard at all times.

Having criticised the GPF's relations with the media, it must be stated categorically that there is a very small number of officers who are cooperative with the media, albeit on an off-the-record basis so they cannot be quoted. Though they are credible sources of information, being quoted gives the story more authenticity.

Finally, here are a number of recommendations for the improvement of relations between the media and the GPF.

1) that the GPF's public relations unit, senior officers of the force headquarters and divisions be given basic courses in news and public affairs to have an appreciation of the operations of the news media.

2) that the Commissioner of Police be accessible to the media through interviews and press conferences, rather than disseminating audio and video copies of statements.

3) that very senior officers of the force at headquarters, officers-in-charge or divisional commanders of police stations, through a virtual decentralisation of the public relations unit, be authorised to give the media very basic information on the circumstances of incidents.

4) that the GPF's public relations unit maximise the use of its own internal radio communications system in gathering information for dissemination to the media in order to guarantee immediacy and accuracy.

5) that the GPF's officers of the public relations unit be accessible 24 hours daily via cell-phone

6) that except for policy decisions or announcements, the Commissioner of Police repose confidence in the public relations unit, his officers-in-charge and divisional commanders of police stations in providing basic information on the circumstances of incidents to the media.

Yours faithfully,

(name and address provided)