SWAT team for training
-police say East Coast crime mostly done by youths who want replay of 2002/3
Stabroek News
April 5, 2004

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Training of the long-awaited SWAT team is to start today and an investigation by the police into the recent crimes on the East Coast has concluded that they are being committed by youths who apparently want a replay of the 2002/3 mayhem.

The latter disclosure was made by Commander of `C' Division, Edward Wills.

Robberies and other crimes on the East Coast have risen recently and from accounts from various victims most of the crimes have been committed by young men, some of whom could be considered children. Youth gangs which had operated with the seasoned criminals in 2002/3 are said to have now taken the lead.

Wills was speaking yesterday at a meeting held with Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj and members of `C' Division Community Policing Groups on the current situation on the lower East coast.

The minister reiterated that by the end of this year he hopes to have a police station built in the Sophia area, part of which comes under C Division. A site has already been identified. However, there are other considerations that need to be addressed since a station in that area might straddle the A and C Divisions.

The minister noted that there have been calls for police outposts to be established in certain areas but there are several issues which need to be addressed, one of which is that more personnel would be needed. The minister said he needs to expand the force's numbers because, among other reasons, the number of housing schemes has grown.

The minister also mentioned that the much talked about SWAT team is closer to becoming a reality since the police officers identified will soon undergo training. He also announced that personnel from the UK who will be conducting the training are in the country. The SWAT had been promised by the government during the middle of 2002.

The commander told the fifty-odd members of the various policing groups that most of the crimes are committed between the hours of 7 pm and 1 am with the bandits most of the time arriving on foot or using bicycles and in one instance a car.

He said what was more important is that the bandits often attack homes and shops where the doors are left open.

"There is hardly any case that can be recalled where the bandits went and kicked down doors, but doors were left open because persons, and they have their right, left their doors open while they are in their homes enjoying themselves, some watching television others doing chores... But what was amazing was that the areas in which these bandits were allowed to perpetrate crimes, [were those that had just been] policed by ranks in `C' Division and [in these] there are in many instances [a]low turnout of members of community policing groups..."

Adding his bit, Minister Gajraj pointed out to the group members that more recently the crimes have not only been committed against those who may be considered affluent but also poor families. He added that crime does not confine itself to one ethnic group.

"So we must be all involved in the fight against crimes to improve the quality of life in our community."

He said the fight would ensure that the residents of the various communities are able to rid their minds of the fear of being victims of criminal activities.

"Sometimes a fear of being a victim of a crime can be worse than being the actual victim of a crime... And it is for that reason that we cannot sit complacently on our laurels and just react to the situation. We ought not to wait until a crime is committed then we run to see who might have committed it, [and the consequences] we must be pro-active in our fight against the evils of crime and criminal activities."

The commander issued a call for the members to assist in the crime fight since they were the eyes, ears and mouths of the various areas.

He added that they know the areas better than the police and as a result would be able to recognise persons who do not belong to the community and such information should be passed to the police so that action can be taken.

Wills said because of the crime situation being experienced now the police went out and tried to touch base with all the different policing groups, apprising them of the situation and asking them to join the force to ensure that the division was properly protected.

This disclosure did not go down well with the minister who stated that from the commander's statement it could be inferred that if it were not for the crime the police would not have been in touch with the groups.

He said on the other hand the groups should not wait for the police to liaise with them before they become involved in community policing activities.

"It is for this reason that we need to establish a relationship between the police and the groups at all levels..."

He added that it is incumbent on all the stakeholders to ensure that a cordial relationship is fostered and developed. He told the members that they are not a parallel force to the police but rather they are there to supplement it.

Wills disclosed that the response to the police "touching base" was good and there have been a number of patrols by the various groups. He posited that with this response the criminals would have to rethink their positions because they usually wait until the police patrol passed before they struck. Now, he said, the force has the groups as back up.

He implored the members to continue the struggle.

"I know that in any organisation that there will be some issues that will tend to distract persons from their main objectives but I call on you today do not be distracted, do not be frustrated let us keep the battle, it may be long but I can assure that there will be victory at the end."

He noted that when there is lull in crime people tend to relax, "but it is said when there is peace be prepared for war so that when war comes it would not find you sleeping."

Gajraj, who has been at the centre of a furore over the death squad allegations, pointed out that some communities have not experienced crime because the criminals believe that if they were to attack in these areas they could be caught. This, he said, is as a result of the vigilance of the members of the community.

"Criminals are very selective as to where they ply their trade and against whom they ply their trade..."

He added that the government can make any amount of resources available to the police but this by itself is useless. The minister stated that in the last budget over $3.7 billion was allocated to security, part of which is for capital expenditure.

The minister mentioned the media training being conducted for the police by some British personnel adding that he has suggested to the Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix, to consider extending an invitation to the army, prison service and ranks from the fire service so that the ranks from those agencies can also be exposed to the training.

The minister said that it is important for the police to address the issue of attitude since according to him sometimes persons might call into a station to divulge information about criminal activities, "and the attitude of the police or the response of the police leave much to be desired."

He said similarly the attitudes of the members of the community groups need to be addressed since some of them seemed "to be big, bad and powerful and nobody can tell them anything... You as the executive body have a duty to ensure that members of your groups toe the line when it comes to discipline, when it comes to decorum and when it comes to attitude." The minister said that the members of policing groups need to be trained in various aspects to meaningfully assist the police in the fight against crime.

There are some fifty-seven registered community policing groups in the division and most of the concerns raised by the members present included not being granted licences for firearms.