Domestic violence, legal aid and the police
After reading your news article (Kaieteur News, October 2, 2010) on the role of the police in assisting victims of domestic violence, I will like to add a few words for the benefit of victims and potential victims.
Let me preface the following comments by saying that this is not an attempt to engage in self-serving promotion of the work of the Linden Legal Aid Centre, nor am I an apologist for the police in Linden.
The legal aid centres that are in operation in Guyana can play an important role as intermediaries between victims and potential victims of domestic violence and the police, especially in cases where women complain that the police failed to respond to their pleas for help.
The police in Linden have adopted a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence and I would like to share my experience as to how that policy has been implemented with respect to reports emanating from the Linden Legal Aid Centre. Police departments and legal aid centres in other parts of the country may find the Linden experience to be useful.
Women who are victims or potential victims of domestic violence receive priority in the order of service when they visit the Centre and the attorney contacts the police by telephone with a request for service (which usually means the immediate arrest of the alleged perpetrator for further police investigations into the complaint).
Sometimes the victim or alleged victim claims to have contacted the police before coming to the Centre and to be dissatisfied with the response. In any event, the response of the police to our intervention in each and every case has always fulfilled or exceeded my expectations. The past and present Commanders at the Mackenzie Police Station have been contacted by me on many occasions and have never failed to provide immediate and effective police assistance to our clients.
The present Commander (whom I have not met in person as yet) has even provided us with his cell phone number so that he can be contacted at any time his intervention is warranted.
Two cases stand out as appropriate examples of the implementation of a zero tolerance domestic violence policy, both of which occurred during the tenure of the previous Commander. In one case a petrified woman sought refuge from her abusive husband in the legal aid centre and a call was made to the Mackenzie Police Station. Within a short space of time a police vehicle appeared with two police officers to provide protection for the woman and to search for the alleged suspect. I later learnt that he was found and taken into custody for further investigations.
The second incident involved a client who complained that the police were not responding to her complaints that her husband was threatening to kill her. I transported her to the Mackenzie Police Station and was able to have an audience with the Commander immediately, whereupon she was provided with police escorts to find her husband so that he could be arrested and prosecuted.
In every instance where I called the police to report a case of domestic violence, whether actual or threatened, prompt and effective action was taken against the alleged perpetrators.
It may be difficult to ensure that every policeman in every police station will respond efficiently and effectively to every complaint of domestic violence. While we will continue to work towards that goal, why not use other means that are currently at our disposal to help stem the tide of violence that engulfs our communities?
Why not take affirmative action to forge alliances with the gatekeepers of the criminal justice system – the police – who are equipped to intervene and bring the perpetrators to justice? The legal aid centres are in a unique position to provide a voice for the voiceless victims and potential victims of domestic violence before it is too late.
Linden Legal Aid Centre