Felix cites training, manpower, PR as key police needs
Mobile unit arrives in Berbice By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
August 12, 2004

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A shortage of manpower, insufficient training and poor public relations have been identified as the major problems confronting the Guyana Police Force in the discharge of its duties, according to Commissioner Winston Felix.

The newly-appointed police commissioner says "it is of utmost importance that the police work with the public in order to discharge their duties. The public is the beneficiary of the services provided by the police and we must seek to improve our performance to satisfy that beneficiary. We must interact with that beneficiary to determine where we are in terms of standards and to solve the various problems in the communities. Close interaction with the public can overcome a lot of the suspicions and mistrust of the police."

On Tuesday Felix concluded a four-day visit to "B" Division which encompasses East and West Berbice, the first since assuming office. During the visit he inspected stations, met members of the Force, sections of the business community, the Regional Administration and several Neighbourhood Democratic Councils. Inadequate staffing continues to affect the Force and according to Felix this has been compounded by the difficulty in attracting recruits to satisfy the shortages at stations across the country. Speaking on a television programme on Little Rock Television Station in New Amsterdam last Sunday, Felix noted that there are a number of young ranks whose training must keep pace with the current situation and who have to learn quickly. "We have to build the capacity of our ranks to tackle the new trend in violent crimes and this requires additional training which was not required in the past. I am asking for training in some areas we did not have in the past since we have to upgrade our training to deal with the new types of crime. Unfortunately time is not on our side."

Commander of "B" Division, Assistant Commissioner Ivelaw Whittaker told this newspaper that the Corentyne Coast remains a major area of concern but crimes have decreased recently on the West Coast of Berbice. This, he said, followed the arrest of one man who might have been spearheading most of the robberies along the sub-region. According to the Commander the focus of criminals over recent weeks appears to have been visiting overseas-based Guyanese. "However the problem we face in solving these crimes is the fact that in almost all cases the perpetrators were masked making it difficult for the victims to identify them. This has given us the impression that the perpetrators may be members of the particular community or played a key role in the crimes." Based on information provided, Whittaker said they are investigating several suspects who may have been responsible for some of the recent crimes on the Corentyne.

The Commander again issued a call for Berbicians to assist the police in their fight against crime and to join Community Policing Groups, noting however that "public support has not been as forthcoming as expected."

Felix disclosed that a mobile patrol had arrived in the region to assist in stemming the increase in crimes. Touching on the issue of police public relations, Commissioner Felix expressed the view that "public relations was not properly understood in the past. We are therefore trying to build on the little successes we have achieved so far and to keep members of the Force focused on working with the wider community to solve problems and crime. Getting members of the Force to understand how to build on those relationships has not been properly grasped and we are trying to build on that," he said.

On Saturday, the Commissioner attended a meeting hosted by President Bharrat Jagdeo with Community Policing Groups at the Civic Centre, Corriverton. On Monday he met with the Region Six Regional Administration and NDCs in New Amsterdam while on Tuesday he met with the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association [BCC&DA].

Responding to a question Felix said he had detected "some intent by government to provide the financial resources to improve conditions of work in the Force and to increase salaries in an effort to attract young men and women to join the Force."

He is however unsure why young Guyanese are reluctant to join the Force, saying "it is something worth studying. I am not sure if it is the salary problem, if the whole value system and expectations of young people have gone in a different direction, if it is a search for quick dollars or overseas support."

Is the Commissioner aware of any member of the Force being involved in any death squad? "I have never seen a death squad in the Force. I have never had any dealings with and never knew of any structure which included a death squad in the Force. However we may have had members of the Force who might have gone off on a frolic of their own but when found they have been prosecuted," was his response.

He acknowledged that there is need to stamp out the practice of senior officers attempting to cover-up for junior ranks when complaints are made against the latter saying it is an issue he dealt with at all the stations he visited.

The Commissioner was also asked whether he knew of any member of the Force who might be involved in drug trafficking or in protecting drug lords and their operations. According to Felix, he had no such information but went on to explain that whenever a member of the Force is found to be associated with known drug dealers action is taken against that member. "However in some cases a policeman/woman may not know that the person he/she is associated with is a drug dealer. Apart from this the drug lord is often times protected by layers of different persons and never touches the drugs. This makes it very difficult to arrest drug dealers and we have to deal with those who support the drug lords and take them out of the system."

And where are all the guns and ammunition coming from? "We have a wide and unprotected seacoast which lends itself to trafficking in arms and ammunition and this is one possible source." Over the years a wide assortment of items apart from consumer goods have been entering the country illegally from neighbouring Suriname as well as from French Guiana and Brazil, among other sources.

The items according to reliable sources on the Corentyne include narcotics, guns and ammunition. According to the Commissioner he has no information to support claims made by leading politicians that some of the crimes perpetrated in the recent past were politically motivated. He also said since he assumed office he has not experienced any political interference in the execution of his duties as Commissioner. While encouraging young Berbicians to join the Force and to support Community Policing Groups, Felix is urging ranks to "go out and interact more with the community" as "CPGs are just there to support the Force."

On the question of the proliferation of guns across the country Felix remarked: "There are too many guns around. Even though a lot of people have licensed firearms a number of armed robberies are still being committed."

But how are firearm licences granted? "An application has to be submitted to the Commander of the Division who would compile a report on the individual and submit the application and his report to the Commissioner's office where it is assessed. The Commander would also recommend or not recommend the issuance of the licence. The Commissioner is the only person who can issue a permit or grant the authority to a Commander for a firearm licence to be issued. The Commander is the prescribed officer." According to the Commissioner permission is granted for the issuance of a licence on two grounds - suitability and need.

And urging Berbicians to assist the police in improving the service they offer and to report wrong-doing by members of the Force, Felix said, "we are extending a hand of friendship, we are open to discussion fully aware that we cannot function without the community and members of the public."