September 17, 2002
The Administration’s failure to quell the upsurge in crime has been attributed to many factors but one of the most important is the incapacity of the State’s principal law-enforcement agency, the Guyana Police Force. The Force’s decline was evident for several years since, like many other Government agencies, it was under-funded, under-equipped and under-manned.
To make matters worse, several dubious policy decisions aggravated the morale problems already present in the Force. The withdrawal of former Minister of Home Affairs Feroze Mohamed in 1997; the extension of the service of former Commissioner Laurie Lewis to 2001; the short-lived appointment of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds as Minister of Home Affairs in 1998 and, eventually, the appointment of attorney-at-law Jairam Ronald Gajraj as Minister of Home Affairs in January 1999 all affected the way the Force was administered.
Gajraj’s appointment had come during yet another ‘crime wave’, a week after a major anti-crime rally in Berbice and in the wake of a meeting between the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association and then President Janet Jagan. Then, as now, the President generously promised to commit $1 billion for recruitment, increased salaries and improved equipment for the Police Force.
Then, as now, money was necessary, but not sufficient, to improve the morale and efficiency of the policemen.
The practice of retaining Commissioners who had passed the age of retirement ran the risk of preventing many trained, talented and energetic younger officers from reaching the top position and forcing them into retirement even before their elders. This seems to be the case at present. In addition, allegations against officers accused of misdemeanours, particularly involvement in illegal migration schemes and extra-judicial killings, seem never to result in interdiction from duty and prosecution. These policies contributed to the demoralisation of some senior commanders.
Insufficient attention seems to have been paid to the professional and technical development of the Force for years but appeals for help to the UK produced useful recommendations on restoring the Police Force to some standard of professional efficiency. The Strategic Report of the Symonds Group, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), was presented to the Administration nearly two years ago but little attention seems to have been paid to implementing its recommendations until now.
The Strategic Report found that almost every part of the Force had rotted. The Tactical Service Unit (TSU), the main branch for dealing with unrest, and which constituted about 10 per cent of all police manpower, had no clear written orders, possessed defective and obsolete equipment and had about a quarter of its members actually working in the Officer’s Mess, Credit Union, Finance Department and Training School.
The all-important Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was found to be employing early 20th century methodologies; its forensic capability was negligible, and it lacked the investigative techniques to counter money-laundering and narcotics-trafficking, two of the new crimes propelling the current crime wave.
These and other deficiencies are at the root of the failure of the Police Force to quell the upsurge in crime. The solution to the problem is not merely to buy bigger guns and bullet-proof vests but to improve the morale of the policemen and the overall technical efficiency of the Police Force as quickly as possible.
Reliance on external agencies such as the UK’s Metropolitan Police or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to bring about change, also, will be nugatory unless those efforts are complemented by the political will to address the Force’s internal problems.
Policy-makers ought to consider transferring personnel from administrative to operational duties; removing rogue elements such as the Target Special Squad; embarking on serious training; rebuilding the integrity of the intelligence and investigative branches; appointing a substantive Commissioner of Police; restoring the morale of the constables and subordinate officers and curtailing excessive political interference in the professional management of the Force.
A Police Force that is administered on professional principles and is free from overbearing political interference, will be the best counter-crime strategy that the Government could implement.