Berbice top cop urges public support
- says witnesses loath to finger suspects By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
May 18, 2004

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Police 'B' Division Comman-der, Assistant Commissioner Ivelaw Whittaker is of the view that not many Berbicians are willing to provide information to the police about suspected criminals.

In an exclusive interview with Stabroek News, Whittaker voiced his concern over the paucity of public support in the region for the fight against crime. Yet he recognizes the problem of confidentiality existing between the police and the public which could be a major contributing factor to the indifference exhibited.

Five high-profile armed robberies over the past month in East Berbice have triggered much concern and reignited old fears among Berbicians, in particular the business community.

The Guyana Police Force's 'B' Division which stretches from Abary on the West Coast Berbice to Orealla on the Corentyne River has come under fire for not doing enough to protect citizens. However, Whittaker who assumed duties as Commander in January explained that according to the Division's statistics there has only been a slight increase in crime this year compared to the corresponding period [January-April] last year. "There is a perception that crime has escalated over the past few months probably because of the nature of the robberies and the publicity they attracted but there has been no significant increase."

Some victims are also unwilling to confront suspects, according to Whittaker, "despite the fact that over recent weeks we have made some arrests and have had good grounds to institute charges. In one case, a victim refused to attend an ID parade even through he had initially indicated that he knew the persons who had robbed him. In another recent case, the victims failed to identify a suspect on parade whom they had earlier fingered leading to his arrest by the police."

He is fearful that if this indifference continues criminals will play havoc with the knowledge that victims will be unwilling to identify them. The division, he pointed out, has at its disposal a one-way mirror which allows victims to identify suspects without being seen.

"We are fully aware of the fact that some ranks have not acted in a professional manner when investigating some crimes but the force is making a concerted effort to address the problem."

The Commander is also encouraging persons to provide information on suspected criminals to senior officers by telephone if they have any reservations about confidentiality. The Divisional Commander's telephone number is: 333-3876; Second-in-Command: 333-2485; Divisional Operations Room: 333-2152 to 2154; Divisional Detective Officer: 333-2191; Officer-in-Charge, No. 2 Sub-Division: 337-2519/2222; Officer-in-Charge No. 3 Sub-Division [West Berbice]: 232-0291/0313, and the Officer-in-Charge, Springlands: 339-2227/2222.

Recent trends have indicated that there are at least two gangs operating on the Corentyne which have been responsible for the recent robberies.

On May 9, two armed men robbed a Number Two Village man of $40,000 in cash. On May 8, three armed men robbed a business family at No. 58 village. One man was held in connection with the robbery based on information provided by the victims but was released after they failed to identify him during a parade.

On April 28, three armed men robbed a businesswoman and her grandmother at Hampshire Squatting area. No one has been charged in connection with that robbery. On April 27, the proprietor of a liquor restaurant and three customers were robbed by three armed men who abducted one of the customers in his car. He was subsequently released with his car at Alness a few hours later. The man reportedly told the police he knew the men but was not prepared to finger them and no arrests have been made.

A businessman and his family were robbed in New Amsterdam of approximately $13,000 in cash and jewellery on April 26 by two armed men. No one has been charged to date in connection with this robbery. On April 17, three armed men robbed a supermarket owner, his family and several customers at Cumberland Village, East Canje. One man has been charged in connection with that robbery.

On March 22 three armed men robbed a Corriverton businessman and his family of an estimated $10 million in cash and jewellery. Two men have been charged in connection with this robbery while the third suspect was fatally shot at the New Amsterdam Stelling.

"If persons are afraid to come forward to give us information on suspected criminals they could pass on this information to me, any senior officer or someone they trust who in turn could inform the police."

Whittaker advises "all we need is the information." Asked about delinquent ranks, Whittaker says "we will draw the line and take stern action against any member of the division who is found wanting in their dealings with the public." The force, he reiterated, is in the process of rebuilding its image and reorganising in an effort to provide a higher level of professional service to the public. Towards this end the division has launched a programme to train all ranks in civility.

Asked about the situation on the West Coast, the Com-mander said, "There is no significant problem with crime in West Berbice and New Amsterdam. Our main concern at the moment is the Corentyne area."

Whittaker has also started meeting the Chambers of Commerce in Region Six and Five as part of a policy to involve the business community in the fight against crime. He has already met the Upper Corentyne Chamber and will be meeting the Berbice Chamber this Thursday in New Amsterdam. The division is hoping to secure assistance and support from the business community in the form of vehicles and materials.

The Commander is also making moves to resuscitate a number of dormant Commu-nity Policing Groups [CPGS] across the Division, contending that they can play an important role in assisting the police in the fight against crime. A number of groups had mushroomed on the Corentyne in the wake of an increase in crimes on the Lower Corentyne and a visit by President Bharrat Jagdeo in June 2001. Most have since disappeared amidst several conflicting reports.

Two Sundays ago the first in a series of planned meetings was held at Albion but Whittaker expressed disappointment at the poor turn-out. He is hopeful that this apparent indifference would not be found in other areas across the division.