Catching the bandits
July 14, 2002
A few chinks of light are starting to appear in the Guyana firmament. Which doesn’t mean to say that things are not still bleak, simply that a little corona of hope is illuminating the bleakness. It has to be conceded that innumerable problems will have to be surmounted before we can deal with either the long-term political issues or the shorter-term ones; nevertheless, for all of the gloomy news there was evidence last week that rational forces in the nation were beginning to stir.
The department where there was no positive news to be had was crime, where bandits appeared to pursue their programme of politicized criminality unimpeded. The announcement of the killing of Detective Corporal London was particularly disturbing, given its possible implications. The undermining of the morale of the guardians of the state is the obvious aim of these attacks.
One of the problems with the current crime situation has been that the politicians have not disengaged politics from crime. For this to happen (as said before in these columns) we would need as a starting point a common statement on crime from the parliamentary parties - or at least, from the two major parliamentary parties. That could potentially create conditions whereby any radicals associated with professional criminals would find themselves outside the circumscribed political arena, and murder and brigandage could be deprived of their seeming political context.
The situation would be enormously assisted, of course, if the authorities could actually catch some bandits. The deficiencies of the police force have received considerable exposure over the last few months. Everyone recognizes that the GPF has been outgunned, out-thought and out manoeuvred, in addition to which questions have been raised about the confidentiality of information supplied by the public, corruption in the ranks, and extra-judicial killings committed by the Target Special Squad in particular. The lack of public trust in the police has meant that their intelligence capacity has been seriously compromised.
However, there are other deficiencies which have received less debate in the media, but which were raised in a report appearing in our edition yesterday.
One of them did not relate to the police per se, but rather to the Coast Guard’s ability to patrol coastal communities in the face of the great mobility of the bandits who have used boats during the course of some of their attacks.
In response to a question from Stabroek News an army official said that successful patrols would require aerial assistance in the form of the Chinese
Y-12 plane. Normally, it was said, the Coast Guard could only go into action after receiving a report of an attack. If aerial reconnaissance were done, the plane would convey information to the Coast Guard, which would then respond.
The problem was that it was very expensive to do regular patrols, in addition to which the army did not have enough boats.
There is too the matter of the lack of co-ordination between the GDF and the police, which the army admitted last month could possibly have contributed to allowing the gang which invaded the home of a Vergenoegen sawmiller to make good their escape. Yesterday’s report said as well that when the army official was asked about the efforts being made to locate any river hideouts being used by the bandits, the reply was received that that was the mandate of the police intelligence unit, and not the Coast Guard.
After years of neglect, no one expects that the law enforcement agencies will be transformed overnight. A start has certainly been made with the announcement of an infusion of $100M into the police force and of assistance from the UK in relation to organization and training. It will take time, however, before results are seen from these efforts. In the meantime, there are things that can be done especially in relation to communication between police stations and patrols, strategies for quick response - Guyana’s major settlement pattern is linear, after all, and sealing escape routes should not present an insuperable problem - and better co-ordination between the various arms of the security forces. And needless to say, the Government has to look again at the matter of equipping the Coast Guard adequately to discharge its functions. While the five boats it acquired are an improvement on what obtained before, whether they are ideally suited for the task at hand, and whether there are enough of them are issues which deserve a second look.
The police force commendably in recent times has been making visible efforts to improve. However, those efforts are not likely to have had a huge impact on a force whose members are probably demoralized by the targeting of police officers and the stress of being constantly on the front line. That said, the bandits for their part are badly miscalculating if they think that the vast mass of the population has any sympathy for their campaign against the police. Whatever the shortcomings of the GPF, the law abiding citizenry understands only too well that that is the force on which they must ultimately depend for their security. If the public still does not fully trust the police (more especially the Target Special Squad), there is absolutely no doubt in their minds that they want the criminals who have the nation under siege apprehended by the force.
It just remains for the GPF - with whatever help is necessary from the army - to redeem its tattered reputation by doing exactly that.