A failure of intelligence Editorial
Stabroek News
April 15, 2002

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Ever since the deadly, spine-tingling escape of five criminals from the Georgetown Prison on Mashramani Day, a sense of fear has engulfed citizens together with an increasing impatience and consternation at the inability of the police to capture this gang and bring an end to the rampage.

What made the Andrew Douglas, Dale Moore, Troy Dick, Shawn Browne and Mark Fraser escape even more disturbing is that the gang evidently did not flee the jurisdiction like others who have scaled the prison ramparts have in the past. They have hung around and may have been involved in a series of crimes that swiftly followed their unceremonious flight from Lot 12 Camp Street. Whether they were actually involved in all or most of the crimes that have occurred ever since is subsidiary to the issue at hand - the failure of the police to make an impression on those who have been perpetrating these attacks.

Word on the street is that while originally the police might have been searching for five people, through accretion there may be a much larger gang or several of them carrying out the attacks. A large gang could be operating in a very organised, military-style manner with reserves, lookouts, supply and operational groups all taking it in turns so there are periods of rest. If this is so the magnitude of the challenge the police face has escalated and it may explain why the criminals have proven so elusive.

That still doesn't excuse the failure of the police so far to apprehend the criminals. There have been numerous opportunities for their capture. While the ruthless prison escape was well-planned and executed with deadly force, it boggles the mind that the police were not able to encircle within minutes the zones of likely flight and to conduct a systematic and orderly sweep to flush out the escapees. That was failure number one - an abject one at that.

The story has been much the same since then. There have been many attacks - possibly involving some of the escapees - where the police have not been able to thwart the crime or intercept the perpetrators. Among these are the hijacking of a car on February 25, the robbing of security guards a day later, the March 6 attack on a food mart at Annandale, another car hijacking on March 17, another barefaced hijacking and robbery on the East Bank Demerara road, the March 26 shooting and robbing of several jewellers, the March 30 armed robbery at Montrose, the April 1 hijacking of three cars in quick succession and an attempt on another, the killing of Leon Fraser on April 2 and last week's attack in Campbellville where ordinary citizens helped to stave off the attack. There was one occasion where there was an engagement between bandits and the police on March 15 and this led to the death of the one of the criminals, Gregory McClennon. But even in this confrontation the man's four accomplices got away.

It is evident from this string of failures that the police intelligence and undercover infrastructure on the ground either doesn't exist or functions at such a low level that it doesn't matter. It boggles the mind that since February 23, the police have not been able to make a major capture considering that the bandits have not kept a low profile but have thrown down the gauntlet and virtually dared the police to get them. The bandits have been two or three minutes ahead of the police but that should be no deterrent to a force that has a presence in all parts of the city and country and should also be on heightened alert.

Why is it that the police have been unable to glean information from citizens of communities where these bandits must be picking up supplies? Why have the police not been able to stimulate their own informants or undercover people to provide timely leads nearly seven weeks after the prison escape? One of the repercussions of heavy-handed police action and extra-judicial killings is that citizens in some communities no longer have confidence in the police force. They abhor the force, fear the police and are unwilling to provide tips for fear of being compromised. It is a major reason why the police must spend time trying to repair damaged relations with communities. In Buxton, for instance, the police and village leaders should be sitting down to work out an approach for ensuring that law and order could be maintained in the village without the trampling of the rights of citizens. The police should take the initiative in this matter.

In the incident that led to Fraser's killing, it is true that a tip was received but the handling of that matter has raised many questions about the police's operational strategy.

Intelligence-led policing and enlisting the aid of communities in the fight against crime have been advocated by several experts who have studied the condition of the police force and have discerned its major weaknesses. Without giving too much away can the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs say what has been done to improve the police capacity in this area? Let's hope that the criminals don't have intelligence on the movements of the police.

There may in the future be an unexpected encounter between the police and the bandits that lead to their apprehension. When or where this will happen is left completely to chance. Intelligence-led policing allows the police to conduct operations with greater assuredness and the advantage is always on their side. So far, the police have not given themselves this opportunity.