GHRA expresses condolence, calls for civic cooperation with Police Force

Guyana Chronicle
January 11, 2003

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THE Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) Executive Committee and members have extended sincere condolences to the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and to the families of officers slain in the line of duty over the past year.

"The impact on the morale and capacity of the Force of numbers killed and many more wounded by this unprecedented assault on the GPF is profound", the association said in a press release yesterday.

"The numbers and the circumstances of the attacks on Policemen point clearly to a planned and concerted campaign to destroy the GPF. This places the problem in the political as well as the criminal arena.

"As with all else in the society at the present time, an effective political solution is hampered by the absence of a constitutional mechanism, recognised by both major parties through which to address the issue", GHRA said.

It said that the political impasse, together with the limited success of GPF/GDF actions throws more responsibility, in a strange reversal of roles, on citizen-based efforts to protect the Guyana Police Force.

"The standard and most effective role of citizens is best expressed in providing information to the GPF on criminal activity and suspicious behaviour in one's neighbourhood. In technical terms such information contributes to dynamic security, allowing preventative action to be taken to forestall criminal activity", the association noted.

"Two key requirements for effective preventative security are a good relationship between the GPF and the community and confidence that information provided will not place the informant at risk. Both of these elements are weak at the present time.

"However, there is reason to believe that both can be redressed within a reasonably short period.

"Developing a positive relationship with the community can take advantage of a growing sympathy in the community over the callous and cowardly killing of Policemen. Moreover, improved community relations are a central feature of the fundamental reforms developed by the GPF over the past year.

"Knowledge of and implementation of these reforms would be reassuring to citizens", the association said.

It added that with respect to providing confidential information, the Force must convince citizens it is safe to approach them with information by well-publicised and anonymous methods. The better relations with the community become, the less dependence on such anonymous methods will be necessary, it said.

GHRA suggested that on both counts, community relations and information gathering, the GPF must devise a much more vigorous campaign to get their message across to the public.

"At present communications are reduced almost entirely to information about wanted persons and confrontation with criminals. Communications are, for the most part, formal, wooden and spare.

"There is no sustained discourse nor inter-active methods on how citizens and the GPF can cooperate effectively", it said.

Clearly relations between citizens and the GPF cannot be reduced to a public relations exercise, it said, adding that while overt hostility towards members of the public is reducing, there is still sufficient disrespectful behaviour by members of the Force to hamper effective cooperation.

"In this regard the comments of the Minister of Home Affairs in defending the need for a SWAT team were unhelpful. His distinction between Police Officers who say 'good morning' and 'good afternoon' and others who need to be tough is precisely the image of the Force we do not need.

"All Officers need to be both polite and respectful at all times and tough when the circumstances warrant. The last thing the new Commissioner needs to inherit is any suggestion that the new SWAT team will operate above or beyond the law."

The association feels that a good starting point for re-habilitating community relations with the GPF would be an imaginative and well-publicised discussion, led by the GPF, on the new community relations strategy.

It said it believes a well-presented effort in this direction would meet with considerable positive responses from the community at large.

While substantial funding has been made available to the GPF for the war on crime, which is understandable, the GHRA would urge that significant funding and professional services also be made available to win the hearts and minds of citizens into a more positive attitude with respect to cooperation with the Guyana Police Force, the release said.

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