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McDonald is of the view that if we do not all work together, then the only beneficiaries of the current situation will be the bandits and criminals themselves.
“It is my strong belief that we will overcome our difficulties. All we have to do is work together to rid our beloved country of banditry. There is no other way out of this problem,” McDonald stressed during his address at the opening ceremony yesterday of the Annual Police Officers Conference.
Commenting on the theme for this year’s conference - ‘Staying together in the fight against crime’ - McDonald said this theme could be interpreted in a number of ways depending on its application.
“It could be seen as referring to, we the members of the Force staying together in the fight against crime. Alternatively, the interpretation could be that the Force and stakeholders in society should stay together in the fight against crime,” he posited.
In keeping with our thrust at total involvement in the fight against crime, McDonald said “this theme to my mind stresses the need for all of us to join hands together and rid our society of banditry”.
The Police Commissioner also pointed out that the fact that traffic has not been mentioned is “not an indication that we have relegated that part of our mandate into insignificance (but it’s just that) we feel that at the moment our greatest threat is crime hence the need for more emphasis to be placed in that area.”
According to McDonald, the conference is being held at a critical time in the history of this country and the Guyana Police Force.
“The past year was a very traumatic one for the country and members of the Police Force (since) during that period we witnessed unprecedented levels of violence being unleashed on members of the force and law abiding members of our society,” the Top Cop said.
Aided by statistics, McDonald pointed out that there were 142 murders last year compared to 79 murders in 2001. He said of the number of murders in 2002, 12 were committed on members of the Force.
He also noted that the number of persons killed last year as a result of armed robberies were 20, compared to 11 for the previous year.
McDonald said for this year so far (from January 1 to March 31) there have been some 58 murders already, compared to 17 over the same period last year.
He noted that for the first quarter of this year eight policemen have been killed.
The number of persons killed as a result of armed robberies during the first quarter of this year is 13, compared to one over the same period last year.
McDonald said, too, that during the period under review, there has been deliberate targeting of policemen by bandits. He said of the 12 ranks killed in 2002, six of them were off duty when they met their death; while for 2003, seven of the eight policemen killed were off-duty.
“It is difficult not to conclude that the targeting of our membership is not accidental but deliberate. The aim is to demoralize our ranks thus making them ineffective paving the way for the bandits to cause mayhem in our society,” he contended.
President Bharrat Jagdeo addressing the opening of the Annual Police Officers’ Conference yesterday.
The Police Commissioner (a.g.) also took the opportunity to highlight some other crimes that he said have been causing us much concern.
One such crime is ‘robbery under arms’. McDonald said this crime has continued to increase over the past two years. According to him, firearms have been the major instruments used to commit robberies. He said there were 1620 cases of robbery under arms last year, compared to 1005 such cases in 2001. He said for the first quarter of this year (2003), there have already been some 411 cases of robbery under arms, compared to 220 such cases over the same period last year.
In terms of arms and ammunition seized by the Police, McDonald said the Force continues to seize illegal firearms and ammunition of varying calibers. In this regard, he said 85 firearms and 4,967 rounds of ammunition were seized by the Police last year, compared to the 71 firearms and 824 rounds of ammunition which were seized the previous year (2001). For the first quarter of this year, McDonald said 30 firearms and 533 rounds of ammunition have been seized by the Police.
“Criminals appear to have easy access to firearms (and) they continue to use them with impunity,” McDonald told the opening of the conference.
On the issue of `car-jackings’, McDonald noted that since the daring escape of the five extremely dangerous and notorious criminals from the Georgetown prisons on February 23 last year, we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in car-jackings. For the year 2002, 110 motor vehicles have been hijacked, and while over 99% of the vehicles have been recovered, a number of hire car drivers have lost their lives while trying to resist attempts to steal their vehicles. McDonald also said that there have been instances where we were suspicious of the actions of the hire car drivers. In fact, some may have been acting in collusion with the bandits. He also noted that some 17 vehicles have been hijacked up to the 31st March this year.
McDonald also called on the owners of hire-car services to exercise more caution. “We appreciate the difficulties the law-abiding hire car owners encounter in earning a living but the exercise of caution is still necessary.
On the issue of kidnappings, McDonald said the dramatic increase in reported kidnappings during the latter part of last year and this year is a source of concern to all of us. “One cannot deny that this type of offence requires skillful handling because of the risks involved (and) we will have to, as a matter of urgency, develop strategies to counter this threat,’ he said.
He said, too, that a number of initiatives is being examined to deal with this problem.
The Top Cop also urged persons (everyone) to take more precautions in their daily activities thus reducing the risk of being the victims of kidnappings.
He recalled that at the last Officers Conference he alluded to the fact that the force was dealing with dangerous criminals and not ‘boy scouts’. “I am not sure how seriously I was taken but events subsequent to that day are indications of what I was speaking about,” McDonald told the large gathering.
According to him, persons have been busy attempting to demoralize the members of the Police Force without understanding the implications of such reckless conduct.
“They have been sending the wrong signals to the bandits (and) bandits view the attacks on members of the Force as support for them,” he asserted.
“Whenever a member of the Force is shot or injured - rather than condemning the actions of the criminals, a number of persons with agendas too numerous to mention either try to blame the incident on alleged extra-judicial killings or some perceived misconduct by the rank,” McDonald said, adding that such actions tend to embolden the criminals.
“Many societal elements including radicals with their own agenda distort information and mislead those who could be misled directing them along the path of destruction,” he added.
Referring to the violence-prone and problem-plagued village of Buxton, McDonald said it is unfortunate that a village on the East Coast of Demerara has now become a haven for bandits, and where many of the law-abiding villagers have become virtual prisoners in their own village.
“It is hoped that persons will come to their senses and understand that bandits are bandits,” he posited.
“Any injection of race and other stereotypes will only serve to cloud the real issue confronting us,” he said.
McDonald also pointed out that the series of criminal activities affecting the society are limited to a large extent to the parts of Georgetown and areas on the lower East Coast.
The other areas have been experiencing far lower levels of crimes, he said. Parts of the mining districts are sometimes affected by criminal acts suspected to be committed by persons who leave the coast-land and commit offences in those areas, he added.
McDonald also indicated that he is delighted that efforts are being made to establish the Service Commissions because the absence of the Police Service Commission is causing severe difficulties at the moment. The Force currently has vacancies for 36 Officers and 34 Inspectors, and according to McDonald, those shortages have placed severe burden on the management of the organization.
“We look forward to the vacancies being filled shortly,” he told the large gathering at the opening ceremony, which included Commander-in-Chief of the armed Forces, President Bharrat Jagdeo; Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj; Chancellor of the Judiciary, Ms. Desiree Bernard; Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, Mr. Cecil Kennard; Chief Magistrate, Ms. Desiree Bernard; Leader of the PNC Reform, Mr. Robert Corbin; General Secretary of the governing PPP Civic, Mr. Donald Ramotar; former Police Commissioners, Mr. Laurie Lewis and Mr. Balram Ragubhir; Head of the Customs and Trade Administration, Mr. Lambert Marks; Public Service Minister, Ms. Jennifer Westford; and a number of senior officers and ranks from the disciplined services.
McDonald also recognized that training has to be intensified to deal with the threat that is facing us. He alluded that this process has already started pending the receipt of more overseas assistance.
The Police Commissioner, in welcoming the President, noted that his presence yesterday at the Annual Officers Conference is indicative of his interest in and support of the Guyana Police Force.
“We are aware that you have an abiding interest in the development of this organization, judging from the tangible efforts you have been making to ensure that all our overall performance is improved,” McDonald told the President.
McDonald also acknowledged the tireless efforts of both President Jagdeo and Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, which are aimed at enhancing the welfare of the entire membership of the force.