Security a major challenge- Gajraj
2003 saw rise in murder, armed robbery but other crimes down
Stabroek News
December 28, 2003

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Security continues to be a major challenge since last year's jailbreak and as a result, there has been massive economic disruption in every sector and more than 193 murders for this year alone, Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj said.

At an end-of-year press briefing at the GTV 11 studios last week, the minister told reporters: "Every sector and every region is affected, resulting in massive economic disruption. It [crime fighting] has, therefore, become everyone's business and is no longer the sole responsibility of the security forces, particularly the police."

Also present at the briefing were Acting Commissioner of Police Floyd McDonald, Fire Chief Carlyle Washington and Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine.

Touching on the crime wave for this year, which continued from 2002 after five men escaped from the Camp Street jail, the minister said by the end of November, 193 persons were reported murdered, compared to 142 in 2002; also that there were 580 reports of robbery involving the use of firearms, 86 more than the corresponding period last year; while 96 firearms were recovered, compared to 118 in 2002. Nonetheless, Gajraj said although homicide had increased, there was a marked reduction in other crimes.

"The nature and execution of criminal enterprise has been a daily challenge as it keeps changing its ugly modus operandi through the growing sophistication of criminals...since [June], the criminal landscape has undergone marked changes in trend, nature, frequency and location. These changes, have to some extent, reduced the level of fear and anxiety among citizenry and have allowed them to resume and pursue their daily business, albeit still with discretion and caution and some degree of anxiety," Gajraj said.

He noted the changes from robbery and killing of business personnel, to kidnapping for ransom; from armed robbery in the city and central populated areas to armed robbery scattered throughout the coastal belt and in isolated interior areas.

Boosts for the police

Gajraj said despite the recent killings, there has been an abatement of criminality, which he attributed to the hard work by the security forces, especially those who lost their lives during the nearly two-year continuous crime spree.

For them to carry out their functions effectively, the minister said, the force had improved its administrative and operational capacities by training and retraining its operatives at all levels to effectively respond to, and successfully confront the changing demands and challenges. "For this year, training in a wide range of subjects has been conducted locally, benefiting some 500 participants from 30 courses and 12 seminars. Members of the police force were exposed to training fashioned to improve their individual abilities to perform at particular levels; to impart new skills or to prepare them to function at the higher levels."

He said the training, in some instances, focused on recent legislative remedies for certain social problems and on the role of the police officer in facilitating redresses or protection under the Constitution, such as the many human rights issues or, under the law, such as the Domestic Violence Act.

But the training did not stop there for members of the country's main law enforcement arm. According to the minister, several senior ranks of the administrative and supervisory levels, were exposed to specialist training in the Caribbean and North America, in intelligence gathering and analysis, international crime and global cooperation, aviation security, narcotic investigation, financial investigation, terrorism and other disciplines important to crime prevention, detection and prosecution.

The government has also provided $85M to purchase single and double cab pick-ups, prison vans, armoured cars, patrol cars, motor cycles, fibre glass boats with engines and ballahoos. Gajraj said this increase to the motorized units of the force had already made a significant difference in road traffic control, patrol of high-crime areas, response to crime calls, emergencies and crime prevention generally. Nonetheless, he warned persons to be on the alert and not become complacent.

One of the major concerns during the crime wave was the use of sophisticated weaponry by bandits and to this, Gajraj said the government, having considered the types of weapons being used by criminals, "was constrained to provide the force with appropriate equipment to meet the challenge with which it was faced."

Earlier this month, the police found a bag of arms and ammunition in a house on Lamaha Street, Newtown. The bag contained two rifles with three magazines and 52 matching rounds of ammunition, a black holster, with belt and magazine pouch.

And last week, ranks stumbled on another cache, this time in the White Water Creek area. That included 3,496 rounds of 7.62x51 ammunition, 29 rounds of 9mm ammo, seven trip flares and 12 sets of trip flare traps. The ammunition found is commonly used in most violent crimes that have resurfaced in recent months.

A few months ago, the police intercepted a vehicle with a suitcase of arms in the trunk, and arrested three persons, including the sister of a wanted man. Several persons were subsequently charged and placed before the court. Information released at that time stated that the arms were being shipped to an East Coast Demerara village.

Exactly a year ago, members of the Guyana Defence Force intercepted a bullet-proof pick up vehicle at Good Hope on the East Coast Demerara, with two assault rifles fitted with telescopic lenses, a 12-gauge pump-action rifle, an Uzi submachine gun, two Glock pistols as well as other handguns, a laptop computer capable of intercepting cellular calls and a plan of the city, two bullet-proof vests, two camouflage caps and two helmets as well as a large quantity of ammunition of varying calibre.

Three men - Shaheed Khan, Haroon Yahya and policeman Sean Belfield - were arrested and charged, but freed earlier this year of the unlawful possession charges. The police have, however, retained possession of those weapons, citing that they were illegally obtained. The accessories and the bullet-proof vehicle were subsequently released. The police had earlier told Stabroek News that they had no clue as to the whereabouts of the laptop computer, and that it was never lodged at the Criminal Investigations Department.

To boost the force's capability, Gajraj said $70M was provided to purchase the equipment and good quality body armour, including bullet-proof vests for members of the Guyana Police Force.