Police must stick to rules, not descend to criminals level
-Felix tells officers conference By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
April 23, 2004

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The police cannot overcome dangerous criminals by waving a white flag at them neither can they descend to their level, Police Commissioner Winston Felix told the force's annual officers conference yesterday.

In the backdrop of several years of crime-inspired tumult and allegations of extra-judicial killings by law enforcers, Felix said that the police's rules make provision for varying levels of force which they will adhere to and at no point will they make up the rules as they go along.

To this end, Felix requested assistance from the United Kingdom for training to better equip the force to cope with confrontations involving the threat and use of firearms. He also signalled his intention for the force to be described as the Guyana Police Service instead of the Guyana Police Force, a shift which observers say has much significance.

Addressing the opening of the three-day Annual Police Conference, the commissioner clarified publicly yesterday that the training requested was not for a Special Weapons & Tactics Team (SWAT), but rather a group of policemen to respond to armed situations.

SWAT officers routinely serve high risk warrants and offer dignitaries protection when requested. In addition, SWAT officers are trained to respond to a wide variety of situations such as officer and citizen rescues, hostage rescues, barricaded subjects, armed suicidal subjects, and crowd control situations.

The conference is being held at the Police Officer's Mess, Eve Leary, under the theme: 'Restoring our Image through Honesty, Integrity, Effective Public Relations, and Efficient Public Service'. It is attended by all serving police officers throughout the country starting from the rank of Assistant Superintendent.

Felix posited that the most potent weapon in the police's efforts to bring crime under control remains the level of confidence communities throughout the country have in the force. "Communication is the only effective vehicle to obtain and retain that confidence. That, coupled with the independence of the police, will gradually bring the results we seek."

According to the Commissioner, he has not perceived any attempt at interference in the work of the police since he assumed office earlier this year adding that he does not anticipate any.

And on this issue, President Bharrat Jagdeo addressing the conference said: "My government has no intention of interfering in police work and we are not going to tell the commissioner of police how to do his work."

However, the President said when he goes on visits people would approach him and tell him they have a problem with the police or another agency and they expect answers. In such cases, he would contact the commissioner or other relevant individuals about the issues raised. "And if people feel that is political interference, well, too bad, because it is going to continue. I have to answer to my people out there, right across this country..."

The President noted that the Commissioner has taken over at a time when crime has taken on new dimensions and characteristics but added that this is a problem that most Caricom countries face. He told the officers they should spend time working out how they could benefit from collaboration with sister Caricom states to ensure that crime is appropriately tackled.

Jagdeo noted that the changing nature of crime has had a devastating impact on the lives of people. However, he commended the police for the work they have done. He said his government's commitment to the fight against crime is the increased budgetary allocation to the force and other disciplinary forces.

President Jagdeo told the officers that the conference should review and evaluate strategies endorsed at the last conference to see how effective they have been. He pointed out that since that conference there has been an improvement in the situation in the country. However, he urged the police not to be complacent since the criminals and other forces will continue to seek to test their resolve. He pointed out that there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that they achieve what they set out to do.

He also urged ranks to keep their ears close to the ground so as to gather intelligence, one of the modern tools in tackling crime.

The opening, which saw President Jagdeo inspecting a guard of honour and taking the march past, was attended by a number of ministers of government, heads of the disciplinary forces, members of the judiciary, political party representatives, government functionaries and other persons. Noticeably absent were representatives of the PNC/R and immediate past Commis-sioner of Police Floyd McDonald.

At its weekly press conference yesterday, the PNCR said its general secretary was invited but the party considered it an insult to be invited to any event where Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj will be a principal actor. The party has taken this stance since allegations were levelled against Gajraj linking him to the activities of a death squad. The party has since called for him to resign and for an investigation into the allegations. The party said it had written to the commissioner explaining its absence and requesting a meeting with him in the near future at a mutually convenient time.

Felix said the theme of the conference "is an expression of our commitment as senior managers of the force, to transform the Guyana Police Force into the Guyana Police Service, through developing and displaying the knowledge, the humility and the skills to serve and protect all citizens of Guyana, and all guests who live work, vacation, or invest here."

President Jagdeo told the officers that they should focus on how they can swiftly improve communication in the force, information technology and forensics. "These are the areas that we have to work on rapidly," the president said.

He urged the officers to understand the sub-cultures of the various communities since if they are not attuned to these, they might come over as harsh and uncaring.

The President stressed that while the officers focused on the image of the force they should remember that the conference is not a public relations forum and they should focus on their response to crimes and their interaction with members of communities.

And the Commissioner said that the conference is the early part of a continuous process to train officers to interact with local communities and the media; to become localised enough to earn the trust of law abiding people. "And the respect of law-breakers also, because, in my experience, police earn the respect of law-breakers (by following) established rules of investigation, detention, search, pursuit, professional preservation of evidence, and prosecution."

The commissioner said that to improve the image of the force a number of actions will have to be taken and one of these is prompt action in response to reports; members of the force must treat everyone fairly and be courteous. They were also exhorted to improve their skills and pursue investigations as aggressively as they can; find preventative methods of policing such as the reintroduction of the beat-duty system in Georgetown; improve their media and public relations; aggressively address quality of life issues such as the noise nuisance problem and strengthen the work of community policing groups to develop partnerships in communities.