The recent spate of unsolved murders, some of them "execution style", has raised concerns that the perpetrators of these acts belong to some phantom gang. The police have so far been unable to charge anyone for some of these murders which fuels the speculation that there is some phantom outfit engaged in vigilante activities, particularly since some of the deceased have been engaged in criminal activities.
Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj does not subscribe to nor support the idea that there is a phantom gang. He points out that while the law enforcement agencies might have information about some of the people who might have been involved, they do not have the evidence that would support a prosecution.
In relation to the criticism of the performance of the police force which has come from the business community, Gajraj points out that while the business community criticises the police some of its members contribute to corrupting and compromising the professionalism of the very force that is being criticised.
Speaking with Current Affairs Gajraj says, "It is an issue that has to be addressed as some businessmen have established special accounts at a number of night spots including Jerry's and Blue Iguana where certain police ranks can have what they want."
According to the Minister, "It begs the question why these same businessmen would criticise the police force some of whose members it has corrupted or have compromised their professionalism."
Fortunately, he adds, "It is only a few ranks of the force that might have allowed themselves to be manipulated by persons who are pursuing their own agendas."
Addressing the issue of the existence of a phantom gang, Gajraj asserts, "If there is a phantom gang operating out there it would mean that they have some ulterior motive and I will not support that concept as there will come a time when you have to deal with a Frankenstein. I do not intend to cultivate any Frankenstein."
However, he says, "There are people out there who have been involved in criminal activity and to the best of my knowledge the police, while they might have been able to obtain information about some of the people who might have been involved, there is the question of evidence."
He notes too that if there were a phantom gang committing these killings, one would expect the pyrotechnics and ballistics from one crime scene to match those at another. "The evidence collected does not allow such conclusions to be drawn with any degree of certainty."
Gajraj said that during the criminal rampage that followed the February 23 jailbreak, there was evidence to connect some of the escapees to crimes, which included ballistics, fingerprint and other physical evidence. For instance, he said that such evidence linked Dale Moore to the shooting up of the Prison Officers Club and Nathoo's Bar in Kitty.
Also Gajraj points out that where the silent evidence indicates that a particular weapon was used more than once the police have been unable to establish who used it.
He explained that Guyana has no witness protection programme and points out that while the CARICOM Action Task Force has been discussing the establishment of such a programme, there are some constraints that have made the operation of such a programme difficult. He said that a major constraint is the size of the various communities since being small any unusual activity or strange persons in an area are immediately noticed and the information spreads very quickly.
Another constraint is that the person to be placed in the programme has a family and other interests which bring in their wake a host of complications. He said that in a few instances where such programmes have been established the results have been disappointing.
With reference to Guyana he points out that one of the difficulties hamstringing the police is the fear those persons, who are knowledgeable of some of these crimes, have that they or their relatives may be targeted. "Right now criminals walk free because witnesses don't turn up or when they do change their stories to favour the accused."
He cites the murder of the bartender at the Big T resort, who was killed after he had rescued two women. He said that a person was arrested but the women did not identify him as the person involved, changing the ethnicity of the person who attacked them. Gajraj said that despite the failure of the women to identify the detainee, the police still charged him but the Director of Public Prosecutions intervened and the case was withdrawn for lack of evidence.
Gajraj relates too the incident of the eyewitness to a shooting in Berbice who, when the police sought to question him, retained a lawyer to tell the police that he had no knowledge of the incident.
Asked about his opinion as to the reasons behind the killings, Gajraj says that it would seem to be in some instances due to soured relations or the disappointing results of some transaction or the other.
Another motive he says might be revenge. He said that between February last year and May this year, a number of persons were killed or suffered abuse and other forms of indignities. He said that information reaching the police indicates that these persons or their relatives have been involved in avenging the acts perpetrated on them or those connected to them. He cited the example of the lady killed in Agricola by two men last year, explaining that one of the two men was killed in a confrontation with the police in the Stabroek Market area and the other in the vicinity of Eccles, East Bank Demerara in very suspicious circumstances. He said there is suspicion that persons connected to her might have been involved in the Eccles killing but notes that "suspicion is not evidence."
Asked about the reports that the persons who were involved in these killings had identified themselves as being members of the Police Force or worn items of police uniform, Gajraj concedes that there might have been some police ranks who had been involved in criminal activity, whom he describes as "downright criminals". However, he says that those ranks are prosecuted when caught.
But he points out that while eyewitnesses have been eager to speak to the press, they were equally reluctant to talk to the police and none of them has come forward with information to assist the police. Also, there have been other eyewitnesses with contrasting evidence.
But while he concedes that there is some impersonation, he says that there have been cases, such as that involving Nan Cambridge who was killed in a shootout with the police and was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, which appeared to have come from the police force. However, he said that an audit of the force's equipment revealed that the vest did not belong to the police.
He explains too that camouflage wear is easily obtained from city stores, which to the untrained eye would look just like those issued to the security forces. Gajraj says that the law prohibits non-members of the security forces from being in possession of kits issued to members of the forces.
Another incident to which he alluded was the robbery of the Securicor van on the Mahaica access road where the perpetrators claimed that persons who appeared to have been traffic policemen had robbed them. He said had not the robbery been solved the impression would have remained that the robbery had been committed by police ranks or persons dressed in police uniforms.
Asked about the involvement of criminal deportees, he said that while he doesn't have the statistics, there is evidence that supports the contention that they have been involved in some of these criminal activities.
He says too that some of them have been involved in obtaining travel documents through corrupt transactions, which remittances from their relatives have helped to facilitate. Gajraj points out that after investigation of some of these transactions two officers were transferred from the Immigration Department. He stresses again that it is a very small minority who besmirch the good name of the force and that the majority of the members of the force are inclined to act correctly at all times.
Legislation was enacted last year as part of measures to combat the rampant criminality that was then sweeping the country. The various pieces of legislation have been criticised as being draconian and as infringing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, both by the opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations and their legality has been challenged in the courts. Amnesty International has also criticised them, especially the law which provides for a deportee to be put under surveillance and the Criminal Law (Offences)(Amendment) Act 2002, which creates the offence of the commission of a terrorist act.
Asked about this, Gajraj explains that so far no charges have been laid under the Kidnapping Act, as the victims have been unwilling to speak to the police for fear of retaliation by their kidnappers either on themselves or their relatives.
He says too that no prosecution had been brought under the Racial Incitement Act as other acts have been used to institute charges against persons stirring up racial hatred.
Also, he says that the hierarchy of the police administration is considering the provisions of the Prevention of Crimes (Amendment) Act, which allows a deportee to be the subject of police supervision because his conduct since his return or a person whose conduct and activities are of such a nature that he may reasonably be regarded as constituting a threat to public safety and public order.
He attributes the delay in instituting proceedings under this Act to the police's concern not to subject an individual to any sort of victimisation.
Gajraj stresses that the Commissioner of Police cannot act capriciously and needs to tread carefully before activating the provisions that allow supervision. But he says notwithstanding their non-implementation they are on the books and could be implemented if the situation arises.