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The national perception is violent crime has increased. Ordinary citizens hoping for the best, appear bewildered by the baseless criticisms of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), as they are conflicting explanations given for the recent spate of kidnapping and murder of policemen.
At their initial meeting, President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, placed high on the dialogue agenda, a review of the functioning of the GPF, and in particular, issues arising from of the role of the Target Special Squad (TSS) in ‘extra-judicial killings’,
noting the progress made would be helpful. During the interim, there was passage of three crime bills and a Government-brokered public forum on crime. Representatives of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government, the opposition People’s National Congress/Reform) (PNC /R) and social partners, having met in consultation on strategies to combat crime and improve governance, are now engaged in a debate on whether to abolish the TSS.
The reality is that combating violent crime involves much more than apprehending predicate felons and bringing them to justice. Governments must assure law-abiding citizens that criminals convicted of violent crimes are securely imprisoned when sentenced. On the other hand, politicians, observing the anger and anxiety aroused by each crime committed recognise that such fears translate into votes. For while politicians cast blame on each other and governments enact new legislation, it is ordinary policemen and women who are assigned the task of stopping criminals. Each of those elements is inter-related, and within that relationship, the GPF is continuously on the frontline.
The manner in which policemen discharge their duties is governed not only by the law, but also, by each citizen’s understanding of what factors influence enforcement of that law. The process by which Guyanese internalise information regarding the nature of our policing system is not uniform. Furthermore, inherent in that information are issues of power that are not explicit. In the context of disparate views, is the GPF being unfairly targeted? Fortunately, few would disagree that the answer is in the affirmative.
Months following the death of Senior Superintendent Leon Fraser, and now, separation of Senior Superintendent Steve Merai from the GPF, the public perception of the most effective methods of policing violent crime has not altered, nor has the news media taken active steps to explain the unique law enforcement issues that require formation of special crime-fighting units. No one will contest the view that it is part of the trust developed between readers and publishers of newspapers, who undertake to give concreteness to our right to freely express our views on public matters, that public sentiment and fear must not be exploited by sensationalising criminals. This is so, notwithstanding the fact that crime sells newspapers.
Fraser and Merai are no longer members of the TSS. Anyone acquainted with these two Police officers would agree their most peculiar quality was bravery, and further, that they feared no criminal. The full impact of the loss to the GPF of two of its most experienced tactical law enforcement officers is yet to be calculated. What can, however, be said with confidence is, in the short term, charting a way forward minus the lawmen of their calibre will not be a simple matter.
What steps are to be taken to placate an individual’s fears at becoming the next victim and to correct the negatives in public perception will be equally difficult given the absence of an acceptable political forum at which issues of power can be determined. With the benefit of the wisdom given to hindsight, historians in years to come, will no doubt note that the shift away from the ‘watchman’ type of policing promoted by the colonial British Guiana Police Force, to one where enforcement of the law is paramount, has left too many questions unanswered.