Jail-break gang has expanded - Top Cop By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
March 22, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Mashramani Day Jailbreak
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Police Commissioner(ag) Floyd McDonald said yesterday that the Mashramani Day jail-break gang has expanded and contended that threats to internal security during last year gave way to an increase in crime.

Amid a recent surge in violent crime, the police have come under fire for not being able to apprehend the gang of five which escaped from the Georgetown Prison and which has been described as armed and dangerous.

McDonald said the police now have information which led them to suspect that two other persons have since joined the gang.

"We are concerned that we have not yet arrested them. Deliberate efforts are being made to close this issue as soon as possible," he said at the opening ceremony of the annual police officers' conference held at the Police Officers' Mess, Eve Leary.

The commissioner said the police were seeking the assistance of the public to provide them with information that could lead to the arrest of the criminals.

"Based on the circumstances surrounding the escape and subsequent events we have come to the conclusion that they are bold, desperate and would stop at nothing to achieve their objectives. We in the force are prepared to confront the situation using all of the resources at our disposal," he stated.

McDonald did not find favour with those who he said were giving the impression that the police were dealing with "schoolboys" and being taken advantage of.

"Those men are career criminals. They are seasoned campaigners who are accustomed to one way of life. Those who think otherwise are making a serious mistake," he said.

President Bharrat Jagdeo declared the conference open and among those attending were members of the judiciary, heads of the joint services, Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte, and representatives of community policing groups.

Reflecting on 2001, the commissioner said the police were required to deal with internal security matters in relation to incidents along the East Coast Demerara, West Coast Berbice and East Bank Demerara.

"During that period whether it is coincidental or not we observed an increase in criminal activity. This resulted in a strain being placed on our limited resources," he said. "We were stretched to the limit in dealing with crime, traffic and internal security problems at the same time."

He stated, however, that there was a reduction in crime towards the latter part of the year.

McDonald recalled that during the incidents of the earlier part of 2001 there had been calls for the force to review its riot control methods. He said the Guyana Police Force (GPF) may agree in principle but there must be some consideration of the great cost attached.

Making a comparison with the developed countries where riot control officers' bodies are completely covered with protective gear, he wondered aloud whether Guyana could afford it. He pointed out that the cost of one saddle for horses used in riot control was US$2,600 or about half a million dollars.

The violent crimes committed over the past two years, especially robberies and murder, caused the commissioner to remark that too many firearms were being used to commit those offences. Giving statistics, he said firearms were used in 23 per cent of the robberies in 2000 and in 2001 they were used in 34 per cent of the reported incidents.

"It therefore means that in responding to one of every three reports of robberies we would have met bandits armed with at least one firearm during 2001," he said.

Of the murders in 2000, 24 per cent were committed with firearms, while in 2001 this rose to 27 per cent.

McDonald said knives and cutlasses formed the bulk of other implements used in similar crimes.

The commissioner said that because of the increase in incidents in the mid 1990s of gun crimes, the force expanded its old crime prevention squad that was in existence since the 1960s. He said the squad's primary role was to prevent crimes from occurring by conducting patrols of areas that were likely to be affected by violent crimes, and to respond to serious incidents that the general duties ranks may not be able to deal with.

"They will, of necessity, come into conflict with criminals who are incidentally not boy scouts," he said.

McDonald declared that the unit, which was assigned the name 'Black Clothes Squad,' was not separate from the force. He said it fell under the command structure and its members wore uniforms, which like those of the immigration ranks, were designed to fit the roles they were required to play.

McDonald said that based on the utterings of some persons, one would get the impression that the entire police force was armed but this was not so.

"We have strict gun control arrangements in the force. Only a small percentage of our members are allowed to carry firearms," he said. For a number of years now, the force - particularly the `Black Clothes Squad' - has been flayed for a series of extra-judicial killings.

According to McDonald, reports, along with statements, are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) whenever there were shooting incidents involving members of the force. He said the force could not decide on the outcome of the matters but merely complied with the DPP's advice.

"We need to reflect and remember that the members of the force come from this society. They are not aliens from outer space. They are subject to the laws of this land. Even if they were aliens they would have been subjected to the laws of this country. They cannot be tried outside the courts. They have a right to be heard," the commissioner stated.

He asserted that the force did not condone wrongdoing by the ranks but, at the same time, he said it would not allow the ranks to be used as target practice by the bandits.

He disclosed that for last year internal departmental action was taken against 947 ranks of the regular force and 266 in the special constabulary.

The number of ranks placed before the courts was 27 in 2001 and the current number is 38.

Complaints made to the force's Office of Professional Responsibility for 2001 were 187, of which 140 were taken to finality. The number of ranks dismissed for last year was 260.

On traffic, the commissioner noted that the number of fatal accidents in 2001 increased even though there was a reduction in the number of persons dying as a result of these accidents.

In 2000 there were 133 fatal accidents and 165 deaths, while in 2001 there were 144 fatal accidents and 161 deaths.

McDonald called on the members of the public to combine efforts with the police to deal with the traffic situation.

"Many of us do not view the offence 'causing death by dangerous driving' with the same seriousness as the offence of 'manslaughter'. Unless we understand the gravity of the offence we will find it difficult to deal with it as a nation," McDonald stated. In traffic accidents, one must look at "the cost to the economy and the irreparable damage that is done to families."

He said the force realised that more needed to be done to deal with the traffic situation.

He noted that legislative changes were imminent but emphasised that the force has to work with other interested parties to bring about attitudinal changes by drivers, riders and other road users. "There is need for societal order to facilitate more respect for the traffic laws of the country," he said.

Community policing groups are important components of the force's crime prevention strategies, he said, and the police would seek to improve the partnership this year.