‘Brutal, incompetent’ police force needs radical overhaul
-Ramsahoye tells Disciplined Forces Commission
By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
August 26, 2003

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There is an urgent need to revamp the entire Guyana Police Force (GPF), which remains a relatively ineffective agency still engaging in racial profiling and acts of brutality upon the citizenship.

This is the view of medical practitioner, Dr Walter Ramsahoye, who said yesterday that he believed that the police force had, since Independence, been an agency incapable of policing, while resorting to acts of brutality to force confessions in the place of proper investigations.

He was at the time addressing members of the Disciplined Forces Commission of Enquiry (DFC) at the Supreme Court Law Library, where the tribunal continued to host public hearings.

The Commission of Enquiry, tasked to review the operations of the Disciplinary Services, was set up by the National Assembly. It is to give priority to its investigation of the Guyana Police Force and will submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the National Assembly.

Chairing the Commission is Justice of Appeal, Ian Chang and other members include 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. Beirne was however absent from yesterday’s sitting.

Maintaining his arguments that the force was incapable of conducting comprehensible investigations, Ramsahoye told the members that this resulted in some ranks who believed that they were above the law, substituting themselves as both judge and jury and carrying out illegal executions.

His submissions were made against the background of the shooting of Brian King, who succumbed on January 1, 2002 after he was shot in the mouth by a policeman.

“Brian King is a symbol of what is wrong with the Police Force... It is not isolated as far as the public is concerned. To the people it represents what they feel, what they hear, what they see and what they experience.”

What they experience, according to Ramsahoye, are acts of racial profiling, citing the fatal shooting of University of Guyana student Yohance Douglas as an example where blacks driving in a car were presumed to be bandits. Had the vehicle been occupied by Asians or Caucasians, he contended, the outcome would have been different.

When asked by Justice Chang how this perception came to be, given that the composition of the Police Force was mainly African, he said he considered it a natural phenomenon.

“[It is] a natural event because of the nature of society. It is a perception that black people must live with and black leaders must tell their people that it is a reputation they should try to [eradicate].”

Meanwhile, he considered also that while modern criminals were well organised, members of the Police Force were derelict in their commitment to crime fighting as a 24-hour, all-year engagement.

“Police officers are involved in unnecessary work which should be done by civilians such as immigration, secretarial functions, typing, prosecuting, examination of vehicles for fitness, conducting tests for prospective licence holders and doing traffic work,” he stated in his submission. Instead he proposed that these duties be consigned to civilian staff, enabling more members of the force to be involved in combating crime and crime fighting.

The legal advisor to the Commission, Bertlyn Reynolds, however asked Ramsahoye to weigh the changing nature of crime, which has seen the evolution of drug trafficking and visa racketeering. She pointed out that because of these very crimes, the argument for retaining policemen in posts such as immigration was very strong.

Ramsahoye however suggested that a system similar to the design in the United States could suffice, where these jobs could be done by trained personnel reporting to the Office of the Attorney-General or by private entities.

Expressing his reservations about the present functioning of the office of the Commissioner of Police, he held the view that the institution was being undermined by the country’s political culture which polluted the administration. Though he also added that this had been a historical characteristic since independence, he described the present relationship between the police and the administration as “incestuous.” As such, he said this created a mutual reluctance to report on each other, developing a situation where the government was now unable to admonish the police force for its actions.

Addressing the contentious issue of the ethnic balance of the forces, he offered that while steps to balance may have been a good idea forty years ago, it was now as unreasonable as asking for ethnic parity in the cane fields. He further considered that any attempt to balance the forces would inevitably require a mechanism which would be discriminatory.

However, former Chief Hydrometeorologist, Sheik M. Khan differed in his perspective of the ethnic composition of the services, proposing instead that police stations be set up in all Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), where they would be staffed by villagers.

He said the present composition of the forces had created a situation where “you go in and you are in an Afro-Guyanese reserve.”

“Is it by how they look or their activities?” asked Reynolds.

“How they look,” replied Khan, who said his solution would alleviate the fears of non-Africans and the stigma attached to Africans who were accused of being racists.

Although he conceded that there were non-African members serving in the forces, he said these were people who had compromised their culture to do so. Peer pressure on the other hand, he said, was used to weed out those who would not subject themselves to such a compromise.

He proposed wider policies for inclusiveness in these services, which he said had failed to take into consideration cultural factors, such as religion and diet, which often deterred Indian enlistment.

Khan also recommended that these agencies benefit from a larger budget, which at present hinders their attempts at effectiveness by limiting the availability of resources or even salaries. But he added that larger allocations would also demand greater accountability of the force, which should be managed by only those academically qualified individuals. He proposed as a minimum requirement for entry, 4 CXC passes, while those in posts of inspector or higher would have to possess a college degree.

In the case of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) he suggested that platoons be created for specific ethnic groups such as Indians and Amerindians. They would be recruited, trained and would serve in these units exclusively, within the framework of the GDF.

Also testifying at yesterday’s hearing was Staff Sergeant (rtd) Compton Drakes, who gave evidence on the GDF.

Ramsahoye was unable to complete his testimony yesterday, owing to an objection by legal advisor for the police Bernard de Santos. He is scheduled to reappear before the Commission on September 3.