Priority matters Editorial
Stabroek News
September 9, 2002

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Today, according to the Office of the President, President Jagdeo is to hold a press conference on his participation in the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

There must be a mistake somewhere. Surely, if the President is holding a press conference today then it must be on the hideous crime epidemic. It couldn't possibly be on the WSSD. Notwithstanding its importance to the future of the planet and the broad range of issues the thousands of discussants touched on, the WSSD pales into insignificance compared to the daily terror that has been unleashed here by criminals and highlighted by the deadly attacks on members of the Guyana Police Force. There is nothing that the President can say about the WSSD that will have any immediate impact on Guyanese. On the other hand, there is plenty he can say on crime that would give the average Guyanese a much clearer picture of whether this unprecedented crime wave can be reined in by the administration and the police force. The President should make clear today by his utterances that crime is his number one priority as he has previously professed it is.

With Friday's murder of a 10th policeman the President must come to understand that the peace of mind of citizens of the capital has been shredded to bits and bandits and hooligans are calling the shots. While people in Essequibo - removed from the locus of the crime wave - may say that potable water is their greatest concern at the moment, the President cannot be oblivious to the very great fear and despair in the wards through which he commutes each day carrying on the business of the state. Moreover, the plague of crime that has gripped the country won't go away by ignoring it; won't evaporate by trying to rationalise it and blaming political rivals and won't be defeated by propaganda. Defeating the criminals requires uniting the country in the fight and empowering the police force.

The last few weeks has seen a new phase of attacks against the police and innumerable, brutal hit and run attacks against small businesses and householders by armed gangs of three or four men. The police force seems totally out of its league in these attacks and given the number of policemen killed so far it is not unexpected that it will show great diffidence in responding.

What the citizens of the country want is for the President to show leadership and to ratchet up the level of the response of the Disciplined Services to the current attacks. How he achieves this is left to him but there is no time to waste.

Several pressing issues await his attention. Firstly, Buxton remains a safe haven for criminals and a base for criminal excursions into neighbouring communities and the city. Amid the cake decorating and summer courses or just plain standing by, the police force and the Guyana Defence Force have failed comprehensively in dealing with the problem. Operation Tourniquet has not staunched the attacks. The criminals have clearly been given a home in Buxton and cover for their nefarious activities. This must come to an end. The community must cease being a magnet for criminals and there must be further deployments in the village to flush them out. Patrols in neighbouring villages must also be stepped up to assure residents.

Secondly, the police force must show greater coordination and initiative in fighting the criminals. From the manner in which police stations respond to reports of crimes, one would not believe that the country is in the grip of a vicious wave of criminality. All stations within the radius of the bandits' reach have to be on 24-hour alert, in radio and phone contact with other stations and they must have vehicles and armed ranks at their disposal.

Thirdly, rapid reaction units must be strategically positioned between stations and on the known escape routes of the criminals. These are well known but every time there is a major strike, units rush frenetically up and down the coast instead of covering exits and lying in ambush.

Fourthly, the criminals cannot be fought on an uneven playing field. Guns that jam and vehicles that don't start will not cut it. The police force desperately needs bulletproof gear for all its active duty ranks, high calibre weapons and urgent training on their use.

Fifthly, the police cannot in the short-term gain the upperhand on its own. They require the support of the army but much more than just having it man roadblocks and mount patrols. It has to be actively and fully involved in the interdiction of criminals and the way should be paved for this.

Sixthly, the President must have genuine conversations with the top political leaders of the country and to solicit their support in the fight.

When all of this is in place and the tide has turned the country will be in a better mood to listen to what happened at the WSSD.