Reversing fear
By Robert Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
August 17, 2003

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A RECENT British crime survey published in The Economist of July 19, 2003 serves as a poignant reminder that the reduction in criminal activities does not automatically eliminate fear. The survey found that while the crime rate has dropped, 38 per cent of the British population still believes that it has increased. This is an interesting revelation as people's perception about the crime rate is sometimes diametrically opposed to the reality.

In Guyana, the past months have seen a consistent reduction in criminal activities. Theories abound about the most recent killings including narcotics, criminal gangs and sour deals. The motives never seem to be robbery at times, as possessions including money on these individuals are not touched. The police continue to investigate these incidents. In the main, the crime wave has ebbed.

Has there been a commensurate reduction in fear among the population? In the absence of any crime survey (a tool non-existent in many CARICOM states), anecdotal evidence may give us a fair perspective. The successes of the security forces in capturing, killing or maiming the criminal ring leaders and the disruption of the criminal network brought a resounding sign of relief and a feeling of comfort across the country.

The fear, which was pervasive, seems to be eroding. The past two months have witnessed a series of well-attended public events and celebrations. Revellers are very enthusiastic about flocking the different venues. Foreign and local investors resumed their interest in several areas. The villages of Annandale, Non Pariel and even Buxton (which is seeking to unburden itself of the stigma of a criminal hideout) are gradually returning to levels of normalcy. Where individuals out of fear moved out of Buxton, Non Pariel and Annandale, they are returning. Some businesses close to the epicenter of the crime wave curtailed their operations. Now, these enterprises are operating at regular output, once again. While no severe damage has been done to race relations, there are visible signs of greater interaction and movements across communities populated by the various ethnic groups.

Doubtless, there is still some amount of scar and trauma inflicted by the mad, blood-thirsty criminals who wreaked havoc after the February 23, 2002 jailbreak. The continuing vigilance of our security forces and priority attention by the Government should keep the crime situation in check and aid in the continuing reduction of fear.

It is important that fear continues to be reduced and if possible removed. "Fear levels are now used as `best value performance indicators,' meaning that police forces have to keep track of them and think up ways of calming people down. In the coming year, watch for a lot of converts to the 'reassurance agenda' and the doctrine of putting more bobbies on the beat...Fear of crime is a serious matter - when keenly felt, it can prevent people from living productive and fulfilling lives," as pointed out by The Economist.

The administration, through the provision of necessary support to the security forces, has been attacking the root causes of fear of crime. This will be a constant effort to involve ordinary citizens and to ensure that our security forces are well equipped and trained.

There is always the need to be cautious in addressing the fear of crime to avoid overreaction. As observed in The Economist: "A further problem with targeting people's fears is that they bear only a tenuous relation to patterns of crime. Those least likely to suffer from crime often fear it most...After all much the easiest way to reduce fear of crime is not to cut crime to self, but to convince people that bad things are unlikely to happen to them. At first glance that sounds reasonable; but it risks turning the police into public relations officers and lowering people's natural defences against crime." The President and other Government officials, recognising a drop in the crime rate and an overnight rise in the level of comfort among the population cautioned all against complacency and warned that crime has not been eliminated. The law enforcement agencies are still on a state of high alert and additional anti-crime measures continue to be pursued.

For the administration, the approach chosen to fight the fear of crime is to go after the criminals, apprehend them and destroy their network. It is simply a policy of zero-tolerance where and whenever criminals are caught in the act. This is the best way to remove the fear of crime.

Fear and anxieties are not only caused by criminals. Individuals when they incite racial and religious hatred via the media do contribute to this unhealthy state of being. While the criminals have been apprehended, certain talk show hosts seem to be on a mission to perpetuate fear, anxieties and uneasiness among the population.

Talk show host Roger Moore of Channel 9 has over the past several weeks been the chief culprit of assaulting the religious and ethnic harmony in Guyana. Along with other members of the extremist lunatic fringe, he has been misrepresenting and abusing Hinduism in the most unsavoury manner. The management of that station and advertisers on the programme by their inaction may be comfortable with this latest form of assault on the society.

The disgust at these harmful broadcasts is shared by a wide cross-section of Guyanese. Even members of Roger Moore's party - PNC/R - are becoming incensed. The PNC/R leadership must now disassociate itself from him and his extremist fringe group dangerous, vile and naked racist and religious assaults. Failure to either condemn or do something about these types of broadcast is tantamount to agreeing with the content of these hate shows and effects, including fear.

(The author is the Information Liaison Officer to the President)

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