More than two decades ago, on January 17, 1999, when “ROAR against Crime” was launched in reference to Police reform, we cautioned: “We should not be stampeded into taking ad hoc initiatives without formulating a plan that addresses the need to make fundamental changes in its structural base – or the malfunctions will continue unabated. “Modernisation” of the Force must not be equated simply with improved weaponry”. In addition to over twenty specific recommendations, four medium-term structural changes were suggested.
Recommendation #1 was “Balancing the Force”. It echoed the conclusion of Dr Cynthia Enloe, who studied Guyana first-hand after a worldwide survey in her essay, “Police and Military in the Resolution of Ethnic Conflict”. “Any lasting resolution of ethnic conflict may require that the distribution of political authority and influence in the society be basically reordered and that, as part of that reordering, the Police and military be ethnically reconstituted at the top and the bottom. Resolution of inter-ethnic conflict will be tenuous if the security that is achieved is merely state security and not security for each of the state’s resident communities”.
Ever since we floated the above suggestion, we took a lot of flak but it is now widely conceded in all multi-ethnic countries that Forces that are more representative of the various elements of the communities are more effective ones. Just look at the London Metropolitan Police or the Police Force in any US major city. The hurdle that is now paraded most often is the rhubarb that “Indians do not join the Force”, in tones that imply that this reluctance may be some genetically inherited quality, rather than historically induced.
David Granger was a member of the Disciplined Forces Commission that specifically examined the question of the “representativeness” of all the Forces in 2003. It agreed on the specific steps that were to be taken to rectify the imbalances when it submitted its report in 2004 and which was finally unanimously approved by Parliament in 2010. Yet, even though the Granger-led APNU/AFC coalition has strenuously worked to “reform and rebuild” the forces since 2015, the “representativeness” recommendation was studiously avoided.
Recommendation #2 was, “Decentralising the Force”. We showed that unlike the Police forces of most low crime jurisdictions that were decentralised, the GPF was heavily centralised due to the historical imperative of the colonial power to suppress rather than to protect the local population. It is rooted in the concentration of all Police strength to protect the strategic centre. We suggested in 1999: “The centralised structure of the GPF has led to widespread ineffectiveness and dislocations. Administrative effectiveness is not the sole test of police competence, which should rather be the greatest effort in the promotion of the Rule of Law and entrenching citizens’ security. We recommend that the GPF be split into six separate forces: Metro-GT, Demerara, Berbice, Essequibo, Rupununi and a Central Force (like an FBI). Each Force would have its own Commissioner and its own command structure. The Central Force wound oversee a central Forensic lab, the Anti-drug Unit, Intelligence and international co-ordination”. We note the timid move by APNU/AFC towards decentralisation in appointing a Commander for each of the 10 regions. This does not go far enough.
Recommendation #3: “Supplementing the Force”: The first part proposed “Community Policing” which the PPP administration enthusiastically embraced because it allowed them to have more input into staffing needs. While we feel this effort must be deepened and broadened, the APNU/AFC administration has downplayed it. Secondly, we proposed the resuscitation of a People’s Militia – which we later dubbed a “Peoples’ Home Guard”. The Home Guard would have all the training as regular army units and in all regards would constitute a reserve for the Army – and a recruitment pool. They would have the wherewithal to discourage the high-powered banditry that has become endemic in our country. We note the APNU/AFC accepted this.
Recommendation #4: Streamlining the Force: We pointed out that, “Only approximately 30% of the GPF are engaged in crime detection and prevention. We elaborated on all the various non-policing elements that could be farmed out – especially to civilian staff, thus freeing up personnel trained for real police work. We asked: Does immigration really qualify as a “policing” task? Shouldn’t each Police Force have its own Prosecutors Office manned by high calibre qualified permanent staff?
The APNU/AFC accepted the recommendation on hiving off Immigration. But the elephant in the room of an unrepresentative force continues to be ignored. Why?