By Michael Benjamin
In September 1983, I enrolled for a place in the now defunct Guyana National Service (GNS) as a pioneer in the Joint Services Recruit and Orientation Course (JSROC) and was transported via MV Jaimitofrom the Kingston Wharf to Base Command Papaya (BCP), a few miles away from the infamous Jonestown commune. Other members of the other disciplined services also formed a part of the programme.
Really, I was uninterested in a military career but nurtured ambitions to become a boxer. My decision to join the GNS boxing gym made it compulsory to engage in some military activities thus my trip to the Barima/Waini region on an initial six months training stint.
Admittedly, despite my initial dread, I returned to Georgetown with improved military skills but still nurtured a deep seated ambition to enter the ‘square jungle.’
It was during the first break, when my other ‘squaddies’ returned to their respective organizations that a senior officer, recognizing my propensity to be investigative, suggested that I switch institutions and opt for a career in policing.
I passed up on the offer since as I mentioned earlier, my ambitions were riveted in ring, not jungle or civil warfare. Nevertheless, I remained interested in the vagaries of police work and my decision to become a journalist might have been hinged on the investigative propensities of the job.
So it is with some amount of trepidation that I observed some members of the GPF as they addressed their duties and eventually concur that they are either poorly briefed of their respective responsibilities and duties or simply ignore them and adopt unorthodox dispositions in effecting them. I am wont to believe the latter theory since Inspector Green, who was a staff sergeant during my initial tenure in the GNS, conducts training sessions of the recruits.
Many moons ago, as a little boy, I loved playing ‘Police and Thief’ a game involving a group of about 15 of us. The strongest in the group would perform the ritual of thumping each person in the chest. Those that laughed or emitted any sound were dubbed the ‘thieves’ while those that retained a serious disposition were the police officers.
The ‘thieves’ would then leave for a destination nearby and commit a crime leaving certain telltale signs. The ‘officers’ would be required to ‘investigate’ using the ‘evidence’ left by the marauders to build a case and present to a judge after they would have completed investigations.
Indeed, this was a fun game and no one actually realized that such activities were preparing us for a career vocation as lawmen. Some of the gang did go on to become police officers. One of them I distinctly remember, Raphael Clarke, became a fearsome detective but died later after it was rumored that an affected criminal had ‘gone to the obeah man for him’.
Those were the days when guns were few and far and police officers wielded authority with a baton, yet commanded the respect of the entire community. Those were also the days when a policeman could have been seen escorting the very young as well as the elderly across the streets.
Admittedly, criminal activities were mostly confined to stealing the neighbour’s fruits or a bicycle here and a few dollars there.
Nowadays, with the advent of the internet and other technological devices, crime has become a scary vocation for law enforcement officers and governments across the world are required to allocate a huge chunk of the budget towards crime fighting strategies.
While other developed countries are able to implement sophisticated devices to curtail criminal activities, local law enforcement officers are constrained by limited and sometimes archaic equipment that, when compared to the tools in the criminals’ hand, makes a mockery of their efforts.
Some time around the late eighties while in Canada I learnt of the hidden road cameras that detected speeding on the roads, clicked the offending driver’s license plate and dispatched both photo and a ticket with a specified fine to the offending driver.
At the end of the year, when that driver attempts to renew his documents but failed to pay his fines, he would be refused the opportunity until he complied. The police officers are very much aware of the defaulting drivers and their vehicles’ number compliments of computerized information just near the dashboard of all police vehicles. Risk transgressing the law and you are dead!
The recent decision by the government to install cameras at strategic points around the city may be decades late but is a welcome safety feature to commuters and other law abiding citizens conducting business or other vocations in Georgetown and its environs.
However, the device could be rendered ineffective if manned by incompetent or dishonest staff. Maybe, the citizens could be spared a few blushes if the government officials could assure them of the viability of this innovation. For the sake of optimum security, the key details need not be discussed.
During a field trip to one of the police stations in his community, the officer in charge escorted the teacher and a group of students in her charge to a corner where the mug shots of the 10 most wanted men were tacked to a bulletin board.
One of the youngsters pointed to the pictures and asked if they really were those of wanted persons. “Yes,” the policeman replied, “The detectives want him very badly.” With a puzzled look on his face the student asked, “Why didn’t you keep them when you took their pictures?”
One of the primary impediments of police officers is the absence of modern day equipment to facilitate investigations and procure hard evidence to bring criminals to justice. Admittedly, in this technological age one could sympathize with law enforcement officers especially since the criminals are well equipped with modern day gadgets to work with. While all this may be true, the officers cannot afford to bellyache and must utilize their intelligence and other available resources to get the job done.
One only needs to venture into the courts to realize that there are chasms within the police force that are in need of attention; that could be fixed even devoid of modern technological tools.
I have seen for myself the numerous cases that are surrendered by police prosecutors, not for the unavailability of modern technology but for ineffective police work. How does one explain cohesiveness between police witnesses and prosecuting officers when the former party ascends the witness stand unaware of the questions to which he would be subjected?
How too, does one explain a senior police prosecutor, after the defense lawyer would have made submissions, only then realizing that the charge instituted was done under the wrong section and therefore improper?
How does one explain the absence of key police witnesses even after arrest warrants are issued for them? If the police cannot locate their own work colleagues, how can they locate criminals with sophisticated technological tools?
This is not to say that the police are not doing a favourable job in crime fighting. It simply means that their must be some housecleaning within the force to supplement the many technological implementations dreamed up by legislators.
Coupled with the efforts of the lawmen, is the input of legislators. One would have imagined that the 2002 jailbreak that claimed the life of a prison warder, crippled another and instigated unending months of murder and mayhem locally, would have triggered a serious examination of local penal institutions with an aim of maximizing security and minimizing incidences of escape.
Alas, more than a decade later, dangerous criminals incarcerated for heinous crimes continue to stage breakouts or in some cases, simply walk out from maximum security institutions leaving prison officials baffled and law abiding citizens living in fear of reprisals and/or repeat of such acts.
The security of any nation is of paramount importance and while the Minister of Home Affairs has boasted of the initiation of numerous strategies to curtail the criminal enterprise, criminals continue to wreck havoc and citizens are now constrained to imprison themselves in their own homes. Wisdom dictates that they desist from flouting riches in public.
Alternatively, the ability of the Guyana Police Force, the judiciary and the courts to support each other’s functions would come under keen scrutiny since the inability to collaborate would naturally encourage a criminal enterprise.
This would be so if criminals are encouraged to believe that the courts would grant bail for the most heinous of crimes or that they would be exonerated despite the hard work of prosecuting officers. Conversely, officers must appear in court to give evidence against those they charge. Otherwise, they should desist from wasting taxpayers’ money and release the persons right there on the spot. Maybe some of these officers did not have playful days or if they had, they never engaged in a game of police and thief.
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I have been doing columns since 1988. I have been a major columnist with the Catholic Standard, Stabroek News, Kaieteur... more