Many people, including me, go out of the way to defend the army and police. We do so because they have made demonstrable efforts to improve the quality of their work, to protect the citizens of Guyana and they lay their own lives on the line to do so. Only a few short years ago during the height of the crime wave after the February 2002 jailbreak, police were targeted by criminals. Many were killed leaving young families. The force did not falter. In the hunt for the serious criminals roaming our streets and killing at will, it was the joint services, army and police, who were in the forefront. The February 2002 band of killers were brought down, ending a nightmare of terror such as Guyana had never witnessed up to that time. When the Fineman gang surfaced, their heinous and mindless massacres surpassed the worst that the February 2002 killers perpetrated. It was the same joint services, army and police again, which diligently and urgently sought out them out and finally killed or captured most of them, thereby ending the most savage crime wave by the most brutal criminals ever to have surfaced in Guyana. These are not minor achievements.
The army and police are called ‘disciplined’ forces. They are rigorously trained, physically and academically. They learn the basics of criminal law. They are taught that at all times they are required to defend the country and protect their fellow citizens. They are required to obey the orders of their superiors upon pain of sanction. How then can such violent and serious crimes be committed, as alleged, by members of the disciplined forces with such apparent mindlessness? Questions must be asked.
When a criminal act is perpetrated against us, our first thought is to call the police. This sign of confidence in the security forces is being enhanced with every passing day. It is happening because of committed and forward looking leadership of the heads of the Guyana Defence Force and the Police Force and the integrity displayed by a vast majority of the joint services. The Government’s support to the disciplined forces has been unstinting. Because of these factors there has been sustained improvement in the work of the disciplined forces. While dangerous and violent criminals still roam the streets and the police take the brunt of the criticism for the still high levels of crime, though far lower in comparison proportionally with sister Caricom countries, their success has been substantial. In a recent article on the subject of the security forces I said: “Two things can be said straightaway about this subject. Firstly, spectacular success has been achieved since 1992. Secondly, a great deal remains to be done.”
Groups of soldiers and police on specific duties do not select themselves. The soldiers and policemen allegedly involved in the robbing and killing of Dweive Kant Ramdass and later stealing of the booty, could not have sought out comrades with like mind to carry out the official duties in which they were engaged. They had to have been selected by their superiors who presumably had no knowledge of their predilections. The fact that all have been charged suggests that the allegation is that each one played a role. Is it just a matter of chance that all the members of the two groups, brought together by their superiors, were accused of being involved in the two offences? Or is it that both services are so rife with criminality so that any group coming together under orders will have all or most of them of a similar persuasion, ready to do harm to the citizens they are sworn to protect?
It has been said that due to poor salary and conditions a poor quality of recruits have to be accepted in the disciplined forces. This is a flawed approach. It is no argument for the admission into the services of persons whose credentials are not acceptable. Both the GDF and the Police Force are aware that during the crime wave starting in 2002, there were members of their services giving out information to the criminals to enable them to murder with greater facility or to escape detection and capture. It would have been better not to have those members in the disciplined services rather than to have facilitators of that or any other type of criminality. It is better to have fewer honest members than to have a full capacity but infested with criminals. I have no idea of the safeguards which are taken during recruitment to ensure that integrity prevails. On the basis of what I have said, should a policy review on the recruitment of quality rather than quantity take place? Or should more specific emphasis be placed on the quality of the recruit with less emphasis placed on achieving the targeted numbers?
Commander Best has said that the men charged do not represent the military. I am sure they do not. And most people know that Commander Best is showing exemplary leadership in motivating the Military. But while the men charged may not represent the military, the fact that they were alleged to be of one mind, even though selected by superiors, begs the question, how many such men are in the military? And is Commander Best going to make a thorough going investigation to weed out the undesirable elements of whom there have to be many as the facts of this incident and the now widespread allegations of shaking down by the Coast Guards demonstrate?
But questions arise for the Police Force as well. Again, Commissioner Greene has been working hard to transform the image and competence of the Force with much success. He has also been firmly dealing with corrupt elements by charging or dismissing them. This is clearly not enough. The policemen had to have known that they were tracking loot. Only the evidence in court will determine whether they are guilty and, if so, if they formulated their plan upon being posted or if, having seen the money, they decided to steal a substantial portion of it. Once again, they could not have selected themselves. Their superior had to have sent them. Is the Police Force, like the Army, so populated with dishonest policemen that any group brought together will have criminals among them? The Police and Army must explain. The allegations of shake down by policemen of a particular section of the Force, but not limited to that section, are so notorious that it is quite believable that a serious problem exists as well in the Police Force. The humble suggestions made in relation to the Army apply equally to the Police Force.
Despite the fact that I have been on the receiving end of police authority for all of my professional life both pre and post 1992, representing clients, friends, relatives and neighbours has never been an easy task. Thrown in the Brickdam lockups for little reason, thrown in lockups on Friday afternoons for trivial offences and the disappearance of the investigating officer resulting in being held for the entire weekend and released on Monday, ‘inviting’ drivers to police stations for minor traffic investigations or offenses, refusal to allow lawyers to see their clients, joke hearings by police investigators upon complaints of police misconduct, and many more and worse in the pre 1992 period, have existed for as long as I have engaged with the police and exist today. It is at this level that a vast majority of persons engage with the police. And it is these unfortunate experiences that many people remember. It colours their perception of the police. Commissioner Greene will do well to address what might appear to be small problems but which conspire together to create big perceptions, although he is no doubt overwhelmed with other burdensome responsibilities. When these ‘small’ problems remain unaddressed, the large ones fester and grow. And forget calling on the public to report. I have encouraged people who have done so and it’s a waste of time. There are better and more effective ways.