Police killings have alienated force from communities
-says victims group
September 1, 2003
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Extra-judicial killings have caused communities to lose respect for the Guyana Police Force (GPF) which now needs to foster stronger ties with citizens while being held accountable for their actions.
This was among the observations submitted on Wednesday when Kenneth Chance of the Justice For Jermaine Committee (JJC) addressed members of the Disciplined Forces Com- mission of Enquiry (DFC).
The Commission of Enquiry, which was set up by the National Assembly, has been mandated to review the operations of the Disciplinary Services. It is to give priority to its investigation of the operations of the Police Force, and will submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Assembly.
Justice of Appeal Ian Chang is chairman of the Commission which also comprises 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.
Speaking at the Conference Room of the Supreme Court Law Library, Chance said police had exercised scant regard for the civil rights of the citizenry, which he attributed to the lack of accountability in the force.
The Justice for Jermaine Committee (JJC) was set up following the police killing of an Albouystown resident, 20-year-old Jermaine Wilkinson.
He said the police, acting on reports, kicked down doors and terrorised suspects and their families, who were often left too afraid to report the incident. He said he was subjected to such an experience when police, at about 10:00 pm kicked down his own door and shot at him, leaving his blind wife terrified.
Such instances, he said, could be avoided if communities had a better relationship with police. But he said the strained relationship was created by the extra-judicial killings committed by members of the force. Of his own community, Albouystown, he estimated the relationship with police to be fair, though he considered it had been adversely affected after the killing of Wilkinson. He said persons in the community did have some amount of confidence in the police, although the community was plagued by a criminal image. He explained that this image was as a result of the negative influences who settled in the ward, though he conceded that the area was also plagued by petty crime.
Chance considered that where communities had confidence in the police, law-abiding citizens would be unafraid to render assistance to the law enforcement authorities. As the situation was now, a stigma was attached to those persons who reported to the police with them being viewed as ‘snitches’ by their communities. In other instances persons terrified by the police failed to come forward as witnesses in criminal investigations.
He recommended greater community involvement by the police, who needed to monitor such depressed areas, while also working to dissuade underprivileged youths from crime.
Chance also spoke out against extra-judicial killings and advocated that all police personnel implicated in such acts be charged and tried for their crimes. He cited the case of the policeman who was committed to stand trial for the death of Wilkinson. The officer was committed to stand trial for manslaughter, but has yet to be tried before a jury since the depositions from the Preliminary Inquiry had not been transmitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In regard to the prison services, he considered that there were not enough attempts being made to separate hardcore criminals from those imprisoned for minor offences. By his estimate, persons were made criminals when introduced to the prison system, which allowed such association in the overcrowded prison system.
He also suggested the implementation of a mechanism to allow for the proper reintegration of the prisoner into civilian life.
Meanwhile, Savitree Mohanlall, an Annandale woman who alleged that she was assaulted and her husband wrongly imprisoned by police, also testified before the commissioners on Wednesday.
Mohanlall, who has since filed a lawsuit against the police force, recalled that the incident occurred on August 9 at about 3:30 pm when in the presence of several people, two police officers entered their premises seeking her husband, Mohanlall Ramcharran.
Mohanlall, whose left hand was heavily bandaged, told the commissioners that the officers said her husband was wanted by the Sergeant at the Vigilance Police Station. After a scuffle her husband was then taken to the station and released 24 hours after on station bail.
His wife acquired a medical certificate after being examined by a doctor and later went to the Vigilance Police Station to make a formal report.
Both she and her husband were later charged for their alleged actions during the incident, while she has received no information concerning the police investigations.
Mohanlall recommended that there is need for police to treat people like civilians, rather than criminals, noting that other citizens could be treated in the same way as she was.
Also testifying at the hearing was George James, who told the commissioners that nothing had come of a relative’s death, which he believed was caused by a policeman. His relative was married to a policeman and was reported to have committed suicide in 1999. But he contended that she was shot by her husband and nothing had been done about it although he made a formal report to the police and a Coroner’s Inquest had been ordered.