The theme of the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF) Annual Police Officers Conference held during last week was “Promoting improvement of public trust and confidence, maintaining safety and security through competence, professionalism and partnership.” Against the background of this theme, President Irfaan Ali urged the GPF to up its game. He told the Police that the Government is going to invest in them so that homes and businesses will become safer places. He promised tools to do the job, the best environment and the best facilities, enhancement of forensic and investigative capacity, improved technology and intensification of regionalization. President Ali gave recognition to the fact that all is not well with the GPF. Thus, he recognized incidents which have brought the GPF into disrepute and hurt its attempt to improve its relations with the public. He expressed the need for interventions to boost public confidence in its work and improve its relations with communities and citizens.
One newspaper headline characterised President Ali’s speech thus: “Technology driven policing will be the future.” But no technology will resolve the first limb of the theme – improving public trust and confidence – unless the entrenched corruption in parts of the GPF, including the traffic department, is relieved. This issue is occasionally hinted at by officials, but corruption in the GPF and traffic department have escaped scrutiny in a manner consistent enough to assure the public that serious efforts are being made to eliminate this problem. I have no doubt that Minister Robeson Benn, like his colleagues of the past, would be very concerned about this problem. The question to be asked is: Has it been beyond past governments?
We are often reminded by police and other officials about how many policemen have been charged or dismissed for corruption. But the problem of bribery and corruption in the GPF continues unabated. Many have argued that until salaries are improved the situation will remain the same. Many also cynically believe that corruption is so bewilderingly entrenched in the GPF and elsewhere in the society that it is no longer possible to reduce, much less eliminate it. It is shrugged off as a problem to be endured.
Less known is the abuse by members of the GPF of the powers of arrest. This is a rich money spinner of which many people are aware, although it is less well known than the scam by many traffic cops.
Section 16 of the Police Act sets out the powers of arrest by the Police. It is lawful for the Police to arrest without warrant any person who commits an offence in his view; any person whom the police has good to suspect of having committed or about to commit cause any person whom any other person charges with having committed an offence; any person whom any other person suspects of having committed an offence; or charges with having committed an offence, if such person is willing to accompany the policeman or police woman effecting the arrest to the police station and to enter into a recognisance to prosecute such charge. There are other provisions but the above are relevant for this purpose.
The vast majority of arrested persons are those whom the police suspect of having committed an offence or persons about whom a report is made by another person of suspicion of having committed an offence. In the latter case the ‘other person’ is required to accompany the police to the police station. This rarely, if ever, happens. Many of these arrested persons are held overnight. With malicious intent, many persons are arrested on Fridays and held over the weekend. This power of the police is regularly abused for profit.
I discovered this nefarious practice nearly fifty years ago when I started to practice law. For two decades I had to contend with the refusal of policemen to release persons held for minor offences, many of whom were PPP political activists charged generally or during GAWU strikes. If not a flat refusal, the arresting officer was not available, often for the weekend. For non-political prisoners the beginnings of the system of payment of a modest consideration for release was evident. As the years went by this activity became lucrative and prevalent, a veritable tsumani, with vast sums being paid for releasing an arrested person or to effect or facilitate an arrest. I had a direct experience of unjustified arrests a few weeks ago.
The police rely on public confidence to solve crimes. An overwhelming percentage of crimes in which there is no obvious perpetrator is solved by human intelligence. For this to remain successful, confidence in the police must remain at a high level. Recognition by the President of the need for public support must be followed by recognition by the leadership of the GPF of the problem of corruption and the implementation of dedicated efforts to stop it. The Government needs to give recognition to the fact that it is not only in the GPF, but in other government and quasi-government institutions, corruption is a problem and it will not be resolved by silence or by ignoring it. For the GPF, if nothing is done, confidence in the police will remain at a sub-optimal level.