On Saturday last, the local media reported that several calls by media consultant Alex Graham to the 911 emergency line went unanswered as he and his family sought help from the Police after be robbed.
This is not the first time that the media has reported that the highly touted 911 system is not working effectively as is being publicised by both the Public Security Ministry and the Guyana Police Force. There were previous instances where media reports exposed a call to 911, while an armed robbery might have been in progress, resulted in the caller being given a number for the Police station with jurisdiction and told to call there. While in that instance the positive is that the 911 call was actually answered, from all understanding, operators are expected to take pertinent information and relay same through its internal network.
Many, over the years, have lamented the poor 911 service. In desperate situations when crimes are being committed, and which could mean the difference between life and death, the citizenry would naturally expect not just professionalism, but a swift and effective response by law enforcement. There can be no alternative to this.
Sometime back an upgrade to the 911 system was reported as well as the cost for same. With such overdue and desired improvement, the reason for a 911 operator providing a number for a station and asking the person seeking assistance to make another call, as precious time ticks away, is beyond comprehension. That station number could be engaged or go unanswered, as experienced by some, further delaying a much needed response.
In addition, some repeated excuses as per the media and victims, are, “you need to call another station as this one does not have jurisdiction” and “only two ranks are at the station and as such are unable to assist”. Unfortunately this has been the harsh reality for some. It renews the nagging concern over the many ranks seen on the roadways at any given time dealing with traffic related issues but often not enough in the nights to respond to armed robberies.
Motorists have alleged of being unduly harassed by Policemen during the day and it is not unusual to hear of that disparity in presence alluded to. This does not take away from the need to curb errant road users; however taxpayers would expect nothing short of the desired response when it comes to attack from bandits.
In many past incidents of crime, often the sloth or lack of a response by the Police is noted. Again, this does not take away from the fact that there were times when the Police responded promptly and confronted the armed perpetrators. However, none can deny the distressing reports of residents bemoaning the lack of a timely response. Sentiments would be further riled in the unfortunate circumstances when a life is lost at the hands of bandits.
Experiencing an attack by armed bandits is a most traumatising experience which can linger with time. It haunts and is relived over and over in the minds of the victims. Indirectly, relatives are also affected having to grapple with the horror their loved ones were forced to endure. Tardiness and a perceived lack of concern by the Police would therefore only serve to exacerbate sentiments.
While such trauma would be referred to in the reports, there is uncertainty over mechanisms, if any, that is implemented for mitigation. This is clearly an area for which capacity building is urgently needed and which could help foster improved relationship between the related authorities and residents.
Obviously the Police have challenges and one is the inadequate number of ranks. That reality unfortunately does not bring respite to residents who find it difficult to accept excuses for slow or a lack of response. These scenarios have unfortunately led to an erosion of confidence in the Police by many citizens and understandably so. There is further erosion when Policemen are fingered and charged for breaking the law including, committing or assisting acts of robberies.
With crime being everybody’s business, the Police leadership and the ranks will have to be supported and they must continue to find innovative ways of meaningfully engaging residents and to be effective to build confidence in all aspects of the system, including 911. Our safety demands nothing less.