March 24, 2007
The robbery of four families in Lesbeholden in Black Bush Polder was a grim reminder that, far from being won, the war being waged against violent crime is going badly and probably being lost.
The seven-member, heavily-armed gang broke into homes and robbed villagers of small amounts of cash and jewellery, leaving a trail of fear after their 30-minute rampage. This is not the first such raid of a small rural community. Most likely, it will not be the last unless the Ministry of Home Affairs and the police force change their public safety posture, especially in relation to guns and gangs.
After declining in the aftermath of the 2002-2003 crisis, violent crime rates - especially for murder and armed robbery - escalated again last year. According to the police, the number of murders soared by nearly 8 per cent from 142 in 2005 to 153 in 2006; robbery with firearms increased by 21 per cent from 764 to 925; and robbery with aggravation rose by 27 per cent from 33 to 42. It was strange that the implications of this deteriorating violent crime situation were neither discussed at the annual police officers' conference nor during the annual budget debate last month.
Even after over five years of violent crime, the police seem not to possess sufficient intelligence on the identities of violent criminals or about the whereabouts and modus operandi of the armed gangs that are roving the coastland. Official responses over the years have not displayed the sort of determination that is likely to disrupt the flow of illegal assault rifles from foreign sources, the initiative to mount manhunts that keep these desperadoes on the run and the diligence to dismantle the network of gangs and starve them of supplies of new recruits.
Instead, the Administration deployed a large number of armed policemen to watch the traffic go by daily on the streets of Georgetown and positioned an even larger number of soldiers in what PPP General Secretary referred to as a 'holiday camp' in Buxton Village.
These forces might appear fearsome to timorous petty criminals but do not seem to have deterred murderous gangsters who feel free to select their quarries and ravage the countryside without worrying about interference or pursuit.
The criminals who executed Ronald Waddell at his home in Subryanville in January 2006; Minister of Agriculture Satyadeow Sawh at his home at La Bonne Intention (LBI) in April; and Lakeram Mc Kenzie at his home in Enterprise Village, in December, for example, are still to be identified, arrested and brought to justice. The heavily-armed gangs that attacked families at Canal No 2 Polder and Black Bush Polder, also, are still at large.
These crimes were committed by gangs armed with AK-47 assault rifles who apparently are familiar with both the terrain and the tactics of the police since they generally escape with ease. Although some of the spent shells recovered from one scene match those retrieved at other crime scenes, the gangs do not seem to care about leaving tell-tale clues from which they could be trailed. Despite the criminals' clumsiness, the authorities seem incapable of catching them.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee's pledge that "no effort will be spared" to crush the gangs, will remain unfulfilled unless there is a serious effort to recruit, retrain and re-equip the Police Force to investigate crime competently.
What can the public expect when, laughingly, the police themselves admit that they did not pursue the Black Bush gang because "it was dark" and they had to wait until daylight?