A sense of security
June 9, 2002
Articles on prisons
After the passage of three months, two weeks and one day, the Government has finally announced a strategy to deal with the current crime situation. Why this was not done three months ago, will probably never be publicly admitted. Outsiders unfamiliar with the corrosive context in which the local political drama is played out, must be quite mystified as to how it is that a situation which started as the straightforward escape of five violent prisoners underwent a transformation to become an issue with implications for the stability of the state.
As it is, however belatedly, President Jagdeo and his administration at least appear to have reached the same point which all sane citizens reached a long time ago, and that is to recognize that the core issue of crime per se must be addressed. Nearly a decade after its accession to office, therefore, it will be pouring money and resources into the Guyana Police Force (GPF). Certainly, law enforcement cannot function without such resources, especially in times like these, but there is nothing in the declaration of intent in relation to the upgrading of the GPF which suggests that the governing party is prepared to confront the all-important matter of police corruption, or that it is addressing the issue of public trust and the police.
No law enforcement agency can operate effectively without the confidence of the public, and nothing has undermined the trust of the African community in the police more than the activities of the Target Special Squad (TSS). The restoration of that trust will be partly dependent, therefore, on the approach the Government is prepared to adopt towards the unit. Unfortunately, if we are to judge from the statements made by President Jagdeo at his media briefing on Friday, the prognostications are not good. The head of state gave no indication that he was in any way inclined to entertain a serious investigation into the squad's operations, despite credible allegations of extra-judicial killings made against it, and despite the fact that it was named by a US prosecutor as performing 'enforcement' functions for Thomas Carroll in the visa scam case.
The reason for the governing party's unreasoned responses whenever the subject of the TSS is raised, is not far to seek. Given the intimate connection between ethnicity and voting patterns in this society, given the ethnic composition of the larger portion of the security forces, and given the fact that they did play a political role under the PNC Government, the PPP/C feels a deep sense of insecurity in office. And there would be no use in pretending that that insecurity was without foundation. The attempts to alleviate the administration's sense of unease, however, have tended to skew policy in an anomalous direction, undermining the capability of law enforcement to function as it should, and, incidentally, undermining the capability of the army to discharge its primary duty in relation to national defence.
The answer of the administration to its dilemma, was first of all to starve the GPF of the kind of resources which could cause the Government further disquiet, to build up the community policing groups particularly among its own constituents, and most important, to try and exercise some level of political control over the security forces. It was not just the objective situation which no doubt prompted the PPP to explore solutions along these lines, but also its own history as a former communist party, and its experience during the long years in opposition. It presumably felt that an independent, strong, professional police force had the potential in the circumstances to be inimical to its own long-term security and that of its constituency.
While the administration clearly found a basis on which to work with the highest echelon of the police, its reluctance to equip the force effectively prior to the present crisis implies a continued reservation about the unquestioning loyalty of the GPF as a whole. It obviously had no such reservations in relation to the TSS, and its quite virulent attacks on critics of the squad's actions have given rise to speculation that this segment of the police force answers directly to the political directorate, and is only technically embraced within the administrative structure of the larger GPF.
If it is that the Government has tied its security to the 'Black Clothes' police, then it is something of an irony that it is this very squad which is playing a role in undermining its sense of security now. The perception, right or wrong, that the TSS is something apart from the force as a whole, and that it is not directly responsible to the Commissioner of Police, has caused the African community to see its actions as being politically motivated. The issue is not whether or not that is so; the fact is, that unfortunately it is perceived to be so.
Ultimately, the Government's security dilemma can only find some resolution within the context of a larger political accommodation with the Opposition. However, that, as we all know, is a complicated matter. In the meantime the route to go is a more professional police force. While the Government as noted above appears to have committed itself finally to this goal, it has to recognize that it cannot do things by half measures; if it wants a GPF which performs, it will have to resist the temptation for political interference, it will have to be prepared to tackle the question of corruption in the force, and most of all, if it is sincere, it will have to accept at the minimum an investigation into the abuses of the TSS.
If nothing else the lesson of the last three months is that where policing is concerned, politics is no substitute for professionalism.