Nation owes Joint Services a debt of gratitude - Jagdeo
- Police officers urged to embrace reform
By Dale Andrews
Kaieteur News
February 9, 2007

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President Bharrat Jagdeo says Guyanese owe the Joint Services a debt of gratitude for the growing sense of security in the nation.

The Commander-in-Chief made the remark yesterday at the opening ceremony of the annual Police Officers' Conference, which is being held at the Police Officers' Mess, Eve Leary.

Jagdeo said that, over the past few months, the performance of the Police Force and army has been exemplary, and this could be measured by the extent to which criminal activity has declined.

He singled out last year's election period as one of the occasions in which the Joint Services displayed exemplary professionalism.

“Commissioner, I want you to communicate to not just the officers but the ranks of the Police Force that we are extremely proud of the work they have done in the past several months. The Chief-of-Staff is here, and I want to say to you, too, that the nation owes the Joint Services a debt of gratitude for the work you did, especially around election time.”

President Jagdeo noted that Guyana had developed an unenviable reputation of violence around election periods, within the past decade and a half, and there was obvious fear that last year's General Elections would have been no different.

He noted, however, that the preparation of the Joint Services and their presence in the streets throughout the period allowed Guyana to break a cycle of violence. He expressed hope that Guyanese could continually look forward to exercising their franchise without undue discomfort.

According to the President, Guyana broke with tradition by having the army on the road on Elections Day, a move that was not readily welcomed by the international community.

“The nation wanted this, and the international community, which traditionally had concerns about the presence of the army on the streets on Election Day, they, too, were very pleased with the performance of both the Police and the army.”

The President's view was endorsed by Acting Police Commissioner Henry Greene, who noted that the last year was a very challenging one for law enforcement.

Greene noted that there were a number of multiple murders, including the high profile slaying of Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh and his siblings.

There was also the disappearance of 30 AK-47 assault rifles from the army's headquarters, Camp Ayanganna, and unprecedented bank robberies as well as the interdiction of a number of drug lords.

Greene opined that the security forces rose to the challenges because of partnership and professionalism.

This, he said, was the reason for the current theme of the officers' conference, “Enhancing community safety and security through partnership, professionalism and reform”.

He said that the partnership has already paid off with the killing of the bank robbers, the recovery of some of the stolen army weapons, and the arrests of some of the suspects involved in the gruesome killings and robberies last year.

Last year, also, saw the reduction of road fatalities, representing the lowest figure in four years.

According to Greene, the current conference will be a period of review, evaluation and projection. The officers of the Guyana Police Force will sit, over the next three days, to ensure that law enforcement can proceed apace and maintain its momentum.

During the discussions, the officers will pay special attention to the planned reformation of the Police Force.

According to President Jagdeo, over the past two years, when the reform commenced, there was some unease in the organisation since there was a fair degree of misrepresentation about the process.

The reform process started with a study by experts from a Scottish institute, who made over 100 recommendations.

“I've always insisted from the beginning that we are going to use the best advice from any part of the world, and I'm still maintaining that position today. But the reform would be led by indigenous authorities, and by the leadership of the Police Force,” the President stressed.

Jagdeo said that he is pleased with the pace of the reform process, but he noted that there is still much more work to be done if the desired outcomes of better policing services and a safer country are to be achieved.

“You should see reform as important, as necessary, as responding to the challenges of today. What we are trying to do is to bring the Force to present-day situations, facing present-day challenges.”

The Acting Police Commissioner, in brief opening remarks, had noted that already work had started on the reform process in the area of traffic.

Recently, the Police have re-introduced eye tests and compulsory lectures for potential licenced drivers, and the Force is in the process of computerising its traffic records in addition to other measures that will be implemented soon.

“We're also implementing Section 27 (3) of the Motor Vehicles and Road Service Act, which empowers us to review the licencing capability of any person who has a physical defect, or appears to have one,” Greene indicated.

He said the Police will also be approaching the Ministry of Home Affairs for a review of the Provisional Driver's Licence.

Under the proposed review, persons seeking a provisional licence will have to write the theoretical examination in order to obtain one.

The Acting Commissioner said that the Special Firearms Unit, which is commonly referred to as the SWAT team, has already been established, and there has been some amount of training.

The relocation of the Police training base to the Soesdyke/Linden Highway is also on the cards for implementation soon.

“We are moving to enhance our professional capabilities. We are prepared to do it. We can do it and we maintain an old saying, ‘give us the resources and we will do it,' ” the Acting Police Commissioner emphasised.

President Jagdeo reminded the officers that they should not only focus on the big issues, in their fight against crime, but should adopt a zero tolerance policy to all types of transgressions.

He noted that sometimes crimes are ranked by their seriousness, and a significant amount of effort is focused on battling the more serious ones. That, he insists, must be revisited. “The Police Force has to begin addressing crime and law-breaking in all its manifestations.”

“When we discuss the reform, it's not just using technology and CCTV and networking. These are important things. Improving our investigative skills is important, but it's also tackling the little things that matter in countries like ours,” the President said.

He urged the officers to explore a broader vision of the world and its challenges, because policing is not done in a vacuum but in a context.

The Head of State said that there are times when he is critical of the security forces but that should not be interpreted as a dislike for the organisations.

He said that only a very narrow view would lead to the conclusion that the government is not supportive of the security forces “I have tremendous confidence in Mr. Henry Greene and the Chief-of-Staff,” the President said to resounding applause.

“That confidence is reflected every year in the national budget, where a growing share of our economy and our budget goes to the security sector. It's not just confidence expressed in words.”

He said that he expects a significant area of the reform process to be completed by the end of this year, and expressed confidence that the security forces will be the best in the world for the upcoming Rio Summit and Cricket World Cup 2007.

Jagdeo also noted that he has seen a dramatic change in the way the Police are working, and he expressed the hope that the same zeal and enthusiasm being presently shown are continued for a very long time.

The President pledged to meet with the officers in a more private capacity, before the conference ends, to detail some of the issues he highlighted in his address.

The three-day forum will conclude tomorrow with a dinner, when 14 officers who have recently retired will be guests of honour.