Police structure flawed, has suffered from weak leadership
-historic inquiry panel hears
By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
August 19, 2003

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The urgent need to restructure the Guyana Police Force (GPF) along with major reforms in policing were among the recommendations put forward yesterday at the first public hearing of the historic Disciplined Forces Commission of Enquiry.

The five-member Commission, which was set up by the National Assembly, is tasked with investigating the operations of the disciplined services, giving priority to the GPF, on which it is to submit a report within three months of the commencement of the hearings. It was one of the agreements reached in the dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Robert Corbin.

Vidyaratha Kissoon of Help and Shelter and Karen de Souza of Red Thread, former policeman Donald Bollers, Heston Boswick, Executive Chairman of the Justice for Jermaine Committee (JJC) and businessman Andy Moore were the first witnesses summoned to the Supreme Court Law Library yesterday to present formal submissions.

Witnesses were sworn-in and then subjected to cross-examination by the legal counsel for the Commission, Bertlyn Reynolds, before being questioned by the members of the panel at the hearing, poorly attended by members of the public.

The commission is chaired by Justice of Appeal Ian Chang and includes former Attorney-General Charles Ramson, SC, former National Security Adviser, Brigadier (rtd) David Granger, attorney-at-law, Anil Nandlall and Irish human rights activist, Maggie Beirne.

Bollers, a former police officer who served the force from 1961 to 1984, submitted to the commission that the long-term decline in the professionalism of the agency was as a result of weak leadership.

He concluded that the force had been hampered by abuses of power by those in the upper echelons of the agency, with several spin-off effects.

He said the results of internal miscarriages of justice had placed the force in its present predicament by frustrating some of the most efficient members, some of whom were forced to leave. Those who remain become a law unto themselves, as investigators, judge, jury and executioners.

He added that this sent a dangerous signal to some members of the force and potential recruits, hence the failure to attract the suitable candidate for service.

Bollers concluded that while in theory the structure of the police force was on face value practical, when put into practice, there were real problems. Meanwhile, in their joint submission to the Commission dealing with the response of the force to child abuse, domestic violence as well as rape and sexual assault, Kissoon and de Souza concluded that in most cases this was inadequate.

Urging the re-examination of the Police Force procedures with regard to these cases, they noted that the attitude of officers often traumatised victims more.

But they also considered that the senior management of the GPF had spoken of the need for reform of police attitudes towards these issues, and the force has committed resources to training in some of these areas.

“However, the training has to be part of a strategy of reform which will include policy review and revision, re-organisation of resources and a monitoring component to ensure that the police response will bring perpetrators to justice without further trauma to victims.”

The last witness yesterday was Bostwick. However, the Commission was unable to complete its examination of him and he will be recalled at a later date.

At the end of the day’s hearing Chang told reporters that he was satisfied with the session and the submissions, noting that persons came forward without fear and said what they had to say.

When asked what provisions were in place for those persons who might still be fearful of reprisals in view of the sensitive nature of their submissions, Chang said, “I don’t see why they should be afraid,” noting that the enquiry was focused on the operations of the Police Force and not on particular individuals.

He cautioned that the commission would not be reckless and allow persons to appear and give evidence which might not be relevant to the commission’s terms of reference.

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