Lack of resources biggest challenge to police force By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
November 6, 2003

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Police Commissioner (ag) Floyd McDonald yesterday shrugged off months of criticism and said the biggest challenge facing the Police Force is a lack of resources.

“Most of the views expressed are unjustified,” McDonald said in his testimony before the Disciplined Forces Commission. He said that the force’s ability to meet the new face of crime would depend on it securing the resources for development.

The commission has been set up by the National Assembly to investigate the operations of the disciplined forces. It is giving priority to its review of the Police Force on which it will submit an interim report by November 18.

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

New Challenges
McDonald said new challenges facing the force include the development of serious crimes which have emerged since 1980s. Murders, robberies, the traffic in guns and drugs have grown alarming since this time. But he said the most significant development was the February 23rd 2002 jailbreak, when five criminals — Shawn Brown, Troy Dick, Andrew Douglas, Mark Fraser and Dale Moore — escaped from the Georgetown Prison.

He said this resulted in serious crimes in Georgetown and on the East Coast Demerara, where policemen where shot dead, citizens were kidnapped and held for ransom and the village of Buxton was held captive by bandits who used it as their base.

He considered that the force brought these activities to a halt, albeit with some difficulties at the start, owing to limited intelligence gathering. But he said the force managed to overcome this hurdle.

“What is the basis of your claim that success has been achieved?” Bertlyn Reynolds, the commission’s legal advisor asked McDonald.

“...We are of the view that we have been able to slow the tide of criminality in the country... from the 25th of May this year to now. By the end of September serious crimes were down by 15% compared with last year. Robberies have also seen reductions, [though] I am not at hand to give proper statistics. But the police force is now patrolling in Buxton normally and that is one of the barometers we could use to come to that conclusion,” he said.

Now, he said, the biggest problems facing the force are robberies and gang-related activities berthed by the illegal gun and drug trades. In order to arrest these challenges he said there is need to improve training, equipment and policing methods, which have now become more scientific. He said resources are needed to effect these changes and improvements which he recognised could take years to achieve in Guyana’s economic reality.

Police killings and the response of the force administration
Police killings or as McDonald preferred to call them “police shootings” have been one of the major concerns about the police force and the commission has received innumerable complaints about unlawful extra-judicial killings.

McDonald told the commission that the force’s policy has always been one of minimum force, although he said too that a policeman may use force consistent with the threat he faces. He still emphasised that at all times efforts should be made to apply non-lethal methods to restrain suspects or prisoners. “...that’s why they are armed with handcuffs and batons etc,” he said.

The country has witnessed a significant increase in violence by criminals who now use high-powered weapons like AK-47 assault rifles, M-70s, Uzis and machine guns. He said this has also meant more confrontations between policemen and bandits. And although policemen work to ensure that as little harm as possible comes to a person they are trying to arrest or restrain, he said that if a policeman’s life is in danger he will resort to lethal force.

However, where policemen go beyond the force’s policy, he said, investigations are mounted. When completed the report is sent to the Police Complaints Authority for input and advice is usually sought from the Director of Public Prosecutions who could order an inquest or recommend that charges be instituted against an offending officer. “We are very firm in our belief that ranks must not go beyond the law [and] all instances of police abuses or excesses which are brought to our attention are investigated.”

He later cited complaints against some members of the Target Special Squad who were alleged to be involved in an illegal visa racket as an example. He said the force sought overseas help and carried out investigations into the charges, after which they submitted reports to the DPP three times but no charges were recommended because the evidence was insufficient.

From January 2002 to July 31 this year there were 88 fatal shootings by police. He said that in four cases criminal charges have been laid, while 35 cases are still being investigated.

In addition, the police force supports the idea of the Coroner’s Inquest and wants the creation of a special Coroner’s Court. “We are of the view though, that to prevent any uneven treatment of policemen, inquests should be held expeditiously [and] this is also to allow for these incidents to be ventilated in the public domain.” He cautioned that the police force has no control when cases reach this stage and any such complaints have been unfair.

Reprisals and the effect on policemen
He considered that extra-judicial killings have surfaced from time to time since 1980s. He said while there has been a number of serious allegations, the high point came with the 1996 shooting of Albouystown resident Jermaine Wilkinson, resulting in a huge public outcry. More recent cases have been Linden London in 2000 and Shaka Blair in 2002, which he said are both the subjects of inquests. London’s inquest was concluded this year and the five-member jury found two policemen culpable for his death. No charges have been laid.

Though there is no conclusive evidence in support, McDonald said there seems to be a distinct possibility that some of the shootings of policemen may be reprisals, “based on the perceptions that police shot these persons unjustifiably.”

Twenty-one policemen were murdered since the jailbreak, more than 30 were wounded and four police stations were attacked by gunmen.

McDonald said this had an understandable demoralising effect on the ranks who would have never seen anything similar in the entire history of the 164-year-old police force.

Policemen were traumatised. Some were forced to find new homes after receiving threats. Some got counselling. Some left the force.

He said this was the design of the bandits who wanted to get policemen to leave the force so that they could cause mayhem in society.

“We had to resort to actions to ensure ranks were not demoralised,” said McDonald, adding that several senior officers were forced to intervene to convince younger ranks to stay on and fight.

Political interference
“I have not experienced any political interference in my operations, McDonald said. Though he did tell the commission that in his official capacity he has received calls from politicians both from the government and the opposition parties.

Asked what safeguards could be put in place to prevent the force from being maligned by the public’s perceptions, McDonald said the safeguards would be officers who adhere to the law.

“That deals with the truth, what about the perceptions?” Beirne asked.

“Perceptions always persist. But we have to let people know we have embarked on a reform programme... The minister’s authority is clear. My authority is clear. There is no clashing.”

Some of the recommendations to the commission include setting up civilian or even parliamentary oversight bodies which could be equipped with powers of appointment, policy review and investigation. The motives behind these recommendations are to decentralise the force and make it less susceptible to political interference.

But McDonald expressed apprehension, particularly about the civilian body, which he agreed could encroach on the force’s independence and create even more bureaucracy.

Salaries and living conditions
The lack of resources McDonald said has already thwarted the recruitment of qualified persons.

“We don’t get the best... our ability to choose is limited,” he said of recruits and the challenges that poor salaries pose to recruitment. So deficient are some of the present recruits that he said an English teacher was contracted to tutor them.

The challenges of salaries include keeping people who are recruited into the force, which has proven difficult at a basic starting salary of $23,000 a month.

According to the force’s statistics, in 2001, 465 people were recruited into the force and 374 left, with only 38 of them being persons who retired. In 2002, 210 people joined the force and 357 left. For this year so far, 163 people were recruited and 277 have left, with only 49 retirements.

McDonald recommended that the basic pay for junior ranks should be about $50,000 a month, which could attract persons with the requisite qualifications to start improvements from the bottom.

“If this commission were to recommend increasing salaries...” Justice Chang began...

“It is likely to give us a better quality,” McDonald completed the statement.

The living conditions of policemen are another concern of the force and McDonald. “I think the working conditions of ranks needs attention urgently, in terms of accommodation, messing facilities and other types of facilities.”

Some of the examples he cited are the lack of facilities for married police officers and the $1,300 house allowance paid to junior ranks. The barrack rooms at stations are also poorly maintained and although there have been budgetary allocations he said they have been not been sufficient.