Police failed to heed Special Branch warning about Linden
By Dale Andrews
The Guyana Police Force failed to heed the words from the intelligence unit and plan effectively for the current protest actions taking place in the mining town of Linden.
This is according to a high ranking officer who informed Kaieteur News that the Force’s Special Branch unit had reported that the people of Linden were prepared for the long haul to press their demands for the government to withdraw the increase in electricity tariffs, and they should not be taken lightly.
From the events that continue to take place, it is now clear that the police intelligence was spot on.
By now everyone knows the police response was to send up a unit from force headquarters to confront the protestors, leading to the unwarranted situation where three persons were shot dead, further compounding an already volatile public order situation.
“At several high level meetings, the Special Branch was indicating that the people of Linden would be strong and that they were prepared to stretch out their protest action for days. Nobody, not even the commander, came up with a proper plan,” said a senior police officer.
This is the first clear sign that the Police Force, despite past experiences, is ill-prepared to deal with protests and other potentially riotous situations.
This makes a mockery of the position put forward by Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee who recently informed the nation that he had held discussions with the police top brass and was assured that the situation could have been handled with little fuss.
“In the absence of a detailed plan from the police, the Minister was only fooling himself that everything was okay,” the officer told this newspaper.
From the inception, the police did not deal with the situation as a protest and adopted a posture that suggested that they were dealing with an armed situation similar to their experiences in the village of Buxton a few years ago.
Not even the $37M water cannon, which was procured for precisely such a situation, was even thought about.
According to another senior officer, the unit that should have been deployed to deal with the situation should comprise a frontline section with tear smoke grenades, followed by about six ranks with shotguns to fire pellets if necessary, another set of ranks with rifles in case the situation gets out of hand and at least two officers who are supposed to carry hand guns.
“From that explanation, it is highly possible that if indeed the three protestors were killed by police bullets, the fatal shots were fired from the weapon carried by an officer,” the source stated.
Following the post mortem examinations performed on the bodies of the three slain Lindeners, evidence strongly suggested that the fatal shots were fired from a handgun.
The handling of the Linden fiasco is a far cry from the way previous situations of similar nature were handled by the police.
The 1997 and 2001 elections violence were classic examples of how the police operated without the casualty that occurred in Linden.
But then again the force does not now have the caliber of officers that they had in those times. Operational experts like Paul Slowe, Larry George and Steve Merai have all left the Force.
Slowe led the operations that dealt with elections violence in 2007 as well as the 58-days Public Service strike.
Although Slowe came in for some public rebuke for the pellet injuries to several persons, there certainly were no deaths or even the threat of death.
In 2001, when almost the entire East Coast Demerara corridor erupted in unrest with several fires blocking the main carriageway, the much feared Target Special Squad was called into action by the then Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis.
Despite their reputation, the unit led by Steve Merai and the now dead Leon Fraser cleared the entire road without inflicting a single casualty.
This was after scores of riot police failed to even budge the angry villagers from Buxton, Haslington, Nabaclis and other communities.
“Now, these police in Linden had to only clear a bridge and they killed three people,” said a frustrated police officer who for obvious reasons asked not to be named.
Strangely enough, the officer in charge of the Force’s operations is proceeding on annual vacation leave despite the present crisis, leaving another officer who incidentally was the Commanding Officer in Linden at the time of the fatal shootings to take charge.
Earlier this year, Home Affairs Minister Rohee had ordered the slashing of the leave of all senior police officers, claiming that this was in the event that they were needed, since there was the possibility of violence.