July 22, 2002
From Long Creek on the Soesdyke/Linden Highway to Vergenoegen, to the wards of the capital city and all along the coast, the cry is the same. The ordinary man and woman simply want to relax in the comfort of their home and not have to bother about whether they’ll be able to sleep through the night without family members being terrorised, robbed and even murdered. Battered by the stagnant economy, the hapless businessman and businesswoman are consumed by the fear of who will be next and whether the day will pass off without a gang of gunmen descending on their establishment and taking every hard earned dollar.
As if the political woes and the back-breaking task of making a daily living were not enough of a challenge, the Guyanese citizen also has to contend with this stunning deterioration in the security situation.
Few will dispute that the current security and crime crisis is the worst it has been in decades. Few will also dispute that it had its origins in the murderous break-out from the Camp Street Prison by the five escapees who five months later are still free. The question is what can the police and the government do to take control of the situation?
By the day, the situation worsens. Yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek reported on two shocking incidents which exemplify this mind-numbing crime cycle. Three guards at two commercial banks in the heart of the city were callously shot and injured on Saturday night apparently in a bid to seize their firearms. As has happened in other cases the gunmen in this well-planned assault escaped. At Long Creek on Friday evening, the Famey family - an 11-month-old baby included - got the shock of their lives when kick-down-the-door bandits invaded their house and for a number of terror-filled minutes threatened the occupants and pillaged everything of worth they could get their hands on. The men escaped in the victims’ car and the police, as has been the norm in these cases, arrived 90 minutes later.
The police have had very little success solving these crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. If one takes the murders of the six policemen as a subset of the overall scourge, their failure is evident. The escapees have been linked to one death and Compton Cambridge, a wanted man shot dead in a confrontation with the police, was posthumously blamed for five of the deaths which involved multiple gunmen. The bottom line is, the police have no live suspect in custody who they can pump for information and glean the inner workings of the crime wave. This situation is true for the other crimes which have been committed including murders of householders.
The police have failed but the bigger failure must be laid at the feet of the government. For the last decade, it has failed to grasp the seriousness of the threat that criminals - with or without political cover and support - pose to the security of the country. The helplessness and fear pervading the citizenry is ample testimony to this. PPP/Civic Home Affairs Ministers have been uninspiring and ineffective. Minister Gajraj has not been able to make a dent on crime and in other parts would have long been asked by the government to hand in his resignation.
In June of this year, President Jagdeo unveiled a clutch of measures to arrest the crime wave. These included more money for the purchase of weaponry, a comprehensive reform of the intelligence sector, a complete review of existing crime legislation and more capital expenditure in the next two years. These measures have failed to produce the desired results. The banditry continues unabated with brazenness.
More fundamental changes in the way the police conducts its operations will have to be put on the table in the restructuring of the force that is being aided by the British government. In the meanwhile, the police force has to confront the crime lords arrayed against it. The murders of the six policemen have no doubt deflated the morale of the force and sapped its will to fight. But this is the hour when it needs to show its real mettle and the quality of policing it is capable of.
Its tactical planning seems to be extremely deficient. In the dozens of attacks by bandits the police have arrived too late or lost sight of cars that it has been chasing. It has made very few arrests. Though stretched thin, it is hard to understand why the police have had such dismal results. On Friday evening a jewellery establishment at 197 Camp Street was set upon by a gang of heavily armed men in a five-minute attempt. On learning of the attack, were the police in a position to cordon of a section of the city to try to trap the carload of men? It failed notoriously to do this when the Alberttown Police Station was set upon. Are there rapid deployment units located at various points of the city and on the coast to deal with these reports? Where are the well-trodden escape routes for bandits after they have committed robberies? Do the police have these staked out? Are the egress and ingress to safe haven areas well covered by the police? Is there reliable and secure communication with all stations and outposts to put them on the alert for getaway bandits?
No one is attempting to downplay the danger the police face or the devilishness of the planning of the bandits. The planning and the support system for the bandits have made the difference this time around between a one-month scourge and five months of runaway terror. There is no doubt, however, that the police can do more with the resources at their disposal. If needs be regional help or from further afield should be enlisted to help the force grapple with this sickening crime wave. It cannot be business as usual. The government must face the reality.