Police conference Editorial
Stabroek News
February 14, 2007

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A congratulatory and celebratory spirit pervaded the Annual Guyana Police Force Officers' Conference last week. President Bharrat Jagdeo was generous in his praise, noting that he had seen a "dramatic change" in the way the police were working and describing the performance of the Police Force and Defence Force as "exemplary." He admitted that he was "extremely proud" of their success at maintaining law and order in the recent national elections and that they were owed a debt of gratitude for the growing sense of security in the nation.

It was difficult to reconcile the President's glee with the grim reality of crime as Acting Commissioner of Police Henry Greene soberly recounted to the conference the many gruesome murders that petrified the country in 2006. The Commissioner recalled the bloody massacres in Agricola and in Eccles when Kaieteur News staff members were killed; and the Earl's Court assassination of Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh and the massacre of his family.

Mr Greene also reminded the conference of the theft of 30 AK-47 assault rifles from the Defence Force, robberies of two commercial banks in Berbice, and the recording of telephone conversations in the office of retired Police Commissioner Winston Felix, all unprecedented in the annals of local crime. Although claiming strangely that the joint services "came out on top," the commissioner certainly must be aware that many of the murders, as well as the thefts and telephone-tapping, remain unsolved.

The slaughter of the eight suspected bank robbers in Berbice; the shooting of Anthony 'Kussum' Charles on the East Coast Demerara; and of Neil Bovell on the West Bank Demerara; and the arrests of some other suspects involved in murders and robberies, though claimed as "successes," have led neither to convictions in the courts nor revelations to the public of the identities of the masterminds and explanations of the motives behind the operations of criminal gangs.

In keeping with the cheerful spirit of the conference, however, Mr Greene went on to boast that "Last year we reduced crime by seven per cent," and noted that by comparison this "success" came in the wake of the spiralling crime wave that plagued Guyana during the period 2002 to 2005. It was perplexing, therefore, that he was reluctant to release the actual statistics of serious crimes in 2006 which must surely be available to him and his officers at this time in February 2007.

Mr Greene had the numbers at hand when he told the business community that there had been a surge in armed robberies which climbed to 673 by mid-August in 2006, compared to 466 for the same period in 2005. With similar candour, Assistant Commissioner for Law Enforcement Mr Heeralall Makhanlall had reported that reports of armed robbery had soared to 990 for the period January 1 to November 6, 2006, compared to 836 in 2005, and there were 136 murders, compared to 104 for a similar period in 2005, with 'executions' accounting for 31.6 per cent of all murders. These numbers cannot be ignored.

Public safety is a public good and the participation of all citizens must be canvassed. Initiatives such as the Citizens' Security Programme, Neighbourhood Police Project and Community Policing Groups are conceptually sound and should be supported.

But, for the public to share the President's confidence in the Police Force's ability to provide protection to citizens and visitors during the forthcoming Rio Group Summit and the Cricket World Cup, much less their own communities and properties, the police must provide more regular, timely and topical information not only about the killing of suspects but also about the investigation and elimination of crime.