Jun 30, 2022 Letters
During 2013 when I was appointed Head, Strategic Management Department (SMD) of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), several things were immediately apparent, including the mishandling of civil disobedience and unrest situations in this country. The Linden shootings around that time prompted diligent research of global best practices on the subject of managing civil disobedience. That along with the collaborative efforts of my colleagues in the department, yielded a document we titled “Civil Disobedience: Crowd Management and Control: Proposed Guidelines for the Guyana Police Force.” However, like almost every product the SMD shared with the Force Administration which was the department’s reporting authority, we are none the wiser as to its whereabouts or even if it was discussed, disseminated or destroyed.
In spite of the intervening years, it is clear that not much has changed in that regard, and the average Joe may be forgiven for assuming that the reality remains unchanged.
The fact that these events have arguably impacted the body politic and the State per se, makes the case for a revision in the way things are done with particular regard to events of civil disobedience and disorder. The days are long gone when tear smoke can be hurled indiscriminately with no regard for its injurious effects on unintended victims. It means therefore that the police are placed in a situation of observing the rights of the people to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, protest, or rally, while at the same time ensuring public safety by protecting the lives and property of all. Balancing the competing goals of maintaining public order while protecting freedoms of speech and assembly presents severe challenges to a well-resourced police force much less one which may be operating at sub-optimal capacity and strength. It is thus the responsibility of the police to control and resolve lawfully, efficiently, and with minimal impact, a civil disobedience or unlawful assembly event using approved techniques and tactics as may be necessary.
In the latter regard, all commanders should familiarise themselves with developed guidelines, strategies, and definitions set out in a document, and which should be considered as the generally accepted principles of crowd management, intervention and control. The material should serve as a guide to the GPF administration in addressing a host of lawful and unlawful assembly issues. These guidelines should also serve as a tool for proactive law enforcement administrative and operations planners when consulting with, and advising policy makers.
Editor, I hold strong views as they relate to training for role. I submit that after the completion of initial probationer training, all probationers should be expected to meet the basic required standard for deployment on operational duties. It is therefore recommended that the GPF complete a training needs analysis in order to adequately train its operational officers and other ranks to this level, thereby ensuring a basic level of competence or Common Minimum Standard (CMS) when required to deal with public disorder. The current approach or lack thereof, leaves much to be desired.
GPF should clearly define how it will meet the identified CMS requirements, while at the same time meeting its operational needs. It is the responsibility of Force Administration to ensure that the threats faced by the Force, (within operational policing and the level of risk) are evaluated. This should show that a clear audit trail is available, showing the number of operational officers and other ranks to be trained at agreed upon levels thereby assisting in effective risk management, whilst showing the justification behind the decisions made.
When planning for public order events, commanders should be guided by several core principles applicable to situations which are likely to develop. These include: Commanders setting the policing style and tone at the beginning of policing operations while at the same time being aware of the potential impact on public perceptions. The police should be approachable and accessible, and should be impartial and fair within the context of conflict management which ought to be the key framework for operational decision-making. Commanders should be able to demonstrate consideration and application of relevant human rights principles in a scenario which requires that police powers should be used appropriately and proportionately. It is quite clear that the Commander has a heavy responsibility for police actions on the ground, however, in the absence of guidelines, the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of police action in a public disorder event lies with the administrative and operational policy makers.
Much of what is written here will not find favour on both sides of a public disorder event, but that does not make the points raised herein any less valid. In terms of the current communication posture which I have a serious issue with, engagement and dialogue should be employed whenever possible to demonstrate good faith and an open approach. Links with relevant parties should be established and maintained to develop trust and confidence. Messages should use plain language and be unambiguous, planned and coordinated, while a positive relationship with the media can provide the opportunity to explain the police perspective, and avoid grandstanding and stonewalling.
Editor finally, there is no getting around the need for a revision of the operational tactics as currently employed as matter of priority.
Patrick E. Mentore
Former Head, Strategic Management
Guyana Police Force
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