City Constabulary protected markets during last protest - acting head
Says unit still in doldrums at 167 years By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
July 21, 2004

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The City Constabulary had ordered the closure of the two main municipal markets in a bid to protect them during the last protest action on Regent Street, Acting Chief Constable, Winston Crawford says.

In an interview with Stabroek News on Monday, Crawford said the unit did not leave the vendors at the mercy of the protesters as some vendors complained but immediate action was taken to safeguard them and their property. On June 25, a band of protesters, mostly women decked in black, marched down Regent Street and commanded a number of businesses to close. They had been protesting the murder of George Bacchus. Some of the vendors had complained that they were not offered any protection by the city constables. But Crawford disagrees.

He said that when the unit was made aware of the protest, ranks were immediately dispatched to the Stabroek and Bourda markets. He said as a precautionary measure they ordered the closure of both markets and stood guard around them.

He said they did not undertake to intervene in the closure of the Regent Street stores since the police were watching over them. Celebrating its 167th anniversary, the City Constabulary is still far from fulfilling its objectives, but Crawford said it has come a long way.

Crawford, acting for Chief Constable Gail George who is on leave opined that the council had to become a more meaningful unit within City Hall and instead of councillors attending meetings to quarrel, they should be more pro-active in reviving the city.

After 167 years, the constabulary has only one vehicle to conduct patrols, no housing quarters for ranks to stay overnight and inadequate finances to carry out some of its duties.

But despite these setbacks, Crawford said over the decades the constabulary has progressed, citing among its achievements the introduction of the Cadet Scheme which resulted in the appointment of cadets Keith Longhorn and Kalvin Eversley in July 1972 and then in 1973, Inspector Gladstone Faucette was appointed Cadet Officer. Nevertheless, he said the organisation was still lagging behind all the other para-military bodies. Crawford said the constabulary was formed at a time when things were going awry in the city. "There was no order and people were doing just anything, so the unit was formed to help support the police in managing the affairs of the city."

Asked how the unit has been benefiting the city, Crawford said it has been helping enforce regulations and providing security for the Mayor among other things.

But Crawford said the unit was not getting the sort of cooperation from the council and on several occasions, key issues were not acted upon with urgency. He said for some time now they have been asking for another vehicle to help in their patrol duties, but no effort was made to purchase the vehicle or seek funding elsewhere. "All they tell you is that they are strapped for cash and that's it, so you can see the situation we are in."

On the issue of prosecution, Crawford said for this year, already 131 matters have been concluded in the courts: eight persons were sentenced; five place on bond; 55 fined, turning in a total of $333,500; 30 were reprimanded; 11 cases were struck out of court and 22 dismissed for the want of prosecution witnesses. At present, there is no special court to deal with municipal matters. Magistrate Fitzgerald Yaw had headed that court but he has since retired.

Crawford believes litter bugs should be assessed the full fine of $10,000. But in most cases, the offenders would get off with a $2,000 fine and sometimes just a stern warning.

"If these people are given the maximum fine then they will desist from littering. Look at our streets it would appear that he we are not doing our job, but the reality is that people would continue to break the laws once there is no penalty," Crawford declared.

Asked if they had a problem catching some of the offenders, Crawford answered in the affirmative, adding that litterbugs are mostly active at night when there are no constables around. But he acknowledged that littering also took place during the day and put this down to a lack of human resources. He said at present they are short of some 87 constables.

Sixty percent of the constables are women. Crawford said this was so because the salary was too small ($24,000/month) and many men were not encouraged to work for that money.

With regard to the enforcement of the laws, Crawford said the women constables generally did not have a problem doing the job. And according to him, citizens have generally been cooperating with them. But he admitted that there is still antagonism between constables and citizens. "This is a problem that has been going on for a long time now, but we have been working to improve relationships."

Among the challenges the constabulary faces Crawford said that moving vendors off the city streets is the biggest. He noted that the order regulating vending on the streets was constantly being flouted. He contended that if the constabulary were better equipped, it would be able to deal more assertively with the problem.