The signs are not promising
November 25, 2002
Gauging how successful the police and the army have been at beating back the tide of crime that engulfed so many Guyanese this year and laps perilously close to the lives of others depends on what happens over the coming weeks and into the new year.
Since the jail escape on February 23, the most alarming manifestation of how lawless the country had become were the military-style raids by heavily armed men travelling in multiple vehicles who homed in on targets and fired at or seized them with frightening precision. These bandits were usually protected by bulletproof vests, had impressive intelligence on their targets and above all had a plan and an effective support network. The invasion of Rose Hall during which two policemen and another man were killed was the most audacious and sinister of their exploits. Others included the raids on the Ng-See-Quan and Seebaran families, the assault on the Alberttown Police Station and the kidnapping of Kamal Seebaran. The last of this type of large-scale attack occurred on the morning of October 24 when businessman Brahmanand Nandalall was effortlessly kidnapped by two carloads of men. Several days later, the events of October 28 resulted in the deaths of two of the February 23 escapees and several other men. Since that date there have been other unexplained killings including that of a man found dead with a bulletproof vest following an early morning skirmish in Buxton and that of the notorious `Inspector Gadget’. It is now a month since the Nandalall kidnapping and it is left to be seen whether that core of men who undertook these hideous attacks has been put out of commission.
Whatever happens, the police and the army have to remain on their toes as the signs are not promising. Last week, several gunmen raided a house at Coldingen. They did not seem to be as clinical as the others but were just as brutal and terrifying. They fled and in the midst of a chase by the police a firefight erupted. It would have been a fairly ordinary event - in the context of the recent crime spree - were it not for what happened next. Around a dozen men suddenly emerged from Buxton and provided covering fire for the gunmen. The police were unable to continue their pursuit and the gunmen escaped.
This incident clearly demonstrated that there is an unrepentant kernel of crime starters in the village of Buxton. Whether or not these persons were the sponsors of the previous gang that included the escapees is not known. However, it should be clear to the police that there are determined people who will stop at nothing to pursue their Machiavellian objectives and there appears to be a willing cadre of recruits.
While the police have to be unrelenting in their pursuit of these men, the force must try not to be heavy-handed or reckless in their approach. As we have said many times before, the police have to grasp the opportunity to repair ties with the good citizens of Buxton/Friendship. The majority of these are law-abiding persons who have been caught in the crossfire of dangerous criminals and the police force which has quite often been brutal and boorish in its dealings with members of the public. Though it is evidently getting more tips from the public - a wanted man was discovered in the boot of a car on the East Coast - the police force remains a symbol of disdain among large sections of communities such as Buxton/Friendship. The reasonable community leaders of these villages should be sought out and urged to help the force to lay the groundwork for improving relations with its residents. This is the only way the force can hope to comprehensively close out the breeding grounds that radicals and criminals are using to stoke instability and terror. The police may score successes against bandits in some instances but unless these communities are freed of their mistrust and disdain of the force, the spawning grounds for criminality will continue to flourish.
And it is not only Buxton/Friendship. The breakdown of law and order since February 23 was a clarion call to all other criminals - small-time or big-time - to come out and join the carnage. Each day there are incidents with muggers, knife or cutlass-wielding men or gun-seeking teenagers after weapons. It can be overwhelming and the force has faced unceasing tension, pressure and assaults over the past nine months during which ten policemen have been gunned down. It is time that the force begins to wage the battle against crime on the public relations front and enlist support from more residents.
There is also another area which it has neglected. Investigating the multifarious leads that have emerged since October 28 is something that the police have not done well. Milking these leads could provide answers to the public on the many puzzling questions that have arisen over the life of the crime wave and it would also allow the building of cases that could be successfully prosecuted against those who are responsible for waging crime.
The more obvious of these leads are tracing the weapons found in the safe houses, determining who rented the safe houses and were in gainful occupation of them and who rented/owned the several cars seized. Very little has been heard from the police on this.