The image of the police Editorial
Stabroek News
March 24, 2002

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It would appear from President Jagdeo's statements reported in yesterday's edition of this newspaper, that he believes there is a concerted effort on the part of media houses "to tarnish the image of the [police] force." Those who work in the media, apparently, are competing to become "a tabloid." He went on to admonish those who go on television to glorify criminals without a thought for the policemen and women who placed their lives at risk to protect them, and cited an experience he had had in Washington where he had been asked about a policeman who had supposedly gone to a man's house and shot him in the mouth. "They stick it on the internet and make it out as though the police are a law unto themselves," he was quoted as saying.

There was more. Mr Jagdeo called for the beefing up of the force's public relations department because sometimes the facts did not get out, and "no one in the media had the decency to ask about the police's side of the story."

It appears that the Head of State is seriously misinformed. Some sections of the media - to wit, this newspaper - spend fruitless hours trying to get the police side of a story, and either the relevant senior officers are out of the office, or they are at a meeting or they have no comment to make. And when a telephone number is left, no call is returned. And when we are referred to the Public Relations Office, which is not infrequently the case, that department generally cannot tell us anything either. Perhaps the President would like to say why it is that in the period since the five prisoners escaped from the Georgetown jail on February 23, for example, it has proved so difficult to extract information at an official level from the police. Perhaps he would like to say too why it is that police information has sometimes been supplied to other media houses on this topic, when this media house has been told nothing - our best and most sustained efforts notwithstanding. And perhaps the President would like to say as well why it is we were told recently by the Public Relations Officer that he was not in a position to provide any further information until he had obtained "clearance" from the police administration.

Mr Jagdeo says that the police public relations department needs beefing up. No doubt it does. But the most conscientious public relations department in the world will not be able to function effectively if it is not supplied with the necessary information to disseminate to the media. The above-mentioned incident aside, this newspaper has gleaned the distinct impression over the years that the Public Relations Office of the police force often genuinely doesn't have any information on a particular crime to give us.

The allegation by the Head of State that there is a concerted effort on the part of the media as a whole to sully the good name of the police is a careless one. He seems to have extrapolated from the "groups and persons" on television who have glorified criminals, to every other media outlet which has raised reasonable questions about police actions in a given instance. The glorification of criminals cannot be condoned, and Mr Jagdeo is right to condemn it. But there is a vast distinction between glorifying criminals, and sober criticism of police killings with an extra-judicial patina, and sometimes more than that.

At the bottom of the problem is the refusal of President Jagdeo and his Government to acknowledge that there are genuine problems within the police force, and that there are too many killings - mostly by a segment of that force - which are subject to question. And as for the particular instance cited by the President which he says he was asked about in Washington, we challenge him to go and read, not the "tabloids," but the police press release on the matter. Let him sit down when his mind is free of the pressures of debt restructuring and the political fray and see if after reading that statement in the quiet of State House he doesn't get a slight tickle of unease at the base of his cerebellum.

No, Mr President, image is not the main problem in the police force, and no again, Mr President, there is no grand media conspiracy to tarnish its image. Responsible media houses certainly recognize that most officers try to do their best under difficult circumstances, but media criticism of those members of the GPF who appear to operate outside the ambit of the law is not tantamount to tarnishing the image of the entire force; that is being accomplished by the very same officers who are acting illegally.

Anyhow, Stabroek News is happy the public relations department in the police force is to be strengthened. We anxiously await the torrent of press releases which will now follow.