Under siege Editorial
Stabroek News
June 2, 2002

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Over the last few months, the issue that has riveted the attention and concern of the public is the dangerous escalation in crime and the effete response to it by the government and law enforcement authorities. Somehow, nothing else seems to matter in the capital city even though there may be temporary diversions like the Miss Universe contest and the veritable international sports feast: football, cricket, tennis. Even the crotchety flare-ups between the two main political parties are now a sideshow to the murderous rampage by the bandits.

So, the elemental question remains: What is the government going to do? It has no more timeouts as the machine of death has rolled on in recent days and shows no sign of stopping. Two policemen and a cambio employee have been killed in the latest attacks so clearly the bandits aren't working at the government's measured pace. Thursday's hair-raising assault on the Alberttown Police Station and the storming of Commerce House Cambio in the midst of Saturday morning's hustle and bustle on Regent Street will certainly have to force the hands of the government. The mode of these attacks, their wantonness and the gratuitous killings, have tatcheted up by several notches the insidiousness of the bandits while at the same time blowing away the last smidgeon of peace of mind of the citizenry.

The government's options are limited. Sadly, ever since the February 23 breakout of the gang of five from prison, the Guyana Police Force has been reduced to being keen observers. It arrives on the scene after the fact (sometimes minutes after), takes notes, interviews people, investigates, issues press releases and manages not to do anything of significance. Sad and depressing but it is the truth. If that wasn't bad enough, the police are now clearly being targeted by the bandits. Four policemen have been killed over the last few months and obviously the morale and will of the force to fight the bandits have been sapped. There is no mistaking it. Like the rest of the country, the force itself is under siege from the criminals.

How the bandits could escape in two cars after attacking the Alberttown Police Station on Thursday night is mind-boggling. After Thursday morning's hijacking of two vehicles in the city, everyone - apparently with the exception of the police - was prepared for another spectacular attack by the criminals. It came just after 10 pm. Why weren't police units throughout the capital on hair trigger alert? Why weren't they able to block the likely escape routes from the capital? When one police station comes under such a deadly assault in the midst of a crime wave, isn't there some mechanism to instantly alert nearby stations? Why was security at the station so apparently lax?

Commerce House Cambio is not far from the Brickdam Police Station. How was it that the bandits were able to shoot up and murder over several minutes on Saturday morning without being engaged by the police force? When they turned up, one of the police vehicles broke down in the middle of the street. It was an apt symbol of the crisis the force faces. What if it were in the middle of a chase?

As a short-term option it is now clear that the army has to play a bigger role in battling the bandits who have waged this months-long war on peace and security. As was pointed out in Thursday's editorial, the role of law enforcement is primarily the police's mandate and the army isn't even being allowed to discharge the functions that fall properly within its defence obligations.

Nevertheless, reversing the comprehensive breakdown of the police force's ability, methods, authority and reach won't occur overnight. It will be an arduous `long walk' to order. The criminals will not let up and short of seeking external help or instituting a limited state of emergency the most sensible option now is to draft the army into the fight.

This will give a brace to the police force and allow wider coverage. There clearly would have to be tightly coordinated and managed joint operations. The operational details of joint command will have to be deftly constructed and orchestrated to minimise the chaos that has attended some joint exercises.

Blame can be apportioned in many directions for the current crime trauma that faces the country: the government, the judiciary, the prisons, the police, the politicians etc. There will be time enough for that and medium to long term recommendations. The task at hand, though, is to lift the siege that has made the public cower and dive for merciful cover.