Professionalising the Police

The criticisms of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) by the Opposition and Opposition elements, and calls for its “professionalisation”, have now become a standard feature of their political polemics. We have been calling for such professionalisation since the 1990s, including representativeness and less authoritarian behaviour, but without any support from that quarter. We welcome their new epiphany.
We explained that the inherent authoritarian nature of our GPF is on account of its model being the Irish Royal Constabulary (IRC), rather than the London Metropolitan Police (LMP), when it was formed in 1839. The LRC, originally chosen as the model by local authorities in 1838, was discarded because it was too citizen-centred. The IRC, on the other hand, was militarily centralised, heavily armed, and ethnicised: it consisted mostly of Irish Protestants and English officers, to ensure the imposition of order against the predominantly Catholic population. Its local mirror-image, GPF, was to “serve and protect” the colonial rulers against the Guyanese people. The authoritarian nature of the GPF is so embedded in its culture that nothing other than a complete overhaul and institutionalisation of new values would make any difference. This is a threshold necessary for reform.
On “representativeness”, in 1993, a single act of racism by the LMP was not allowed to be covered up by the authorities, as had been the norm, and led to an inquiry in 1999. It prompted a major overhaul for the racial “representativeness” of the British Police as an integral aspect of their professionalisation. In that year, Race Equality Employment targets were introduced for their Police Forces. These were now dubbed “Services”, as ours should be, to emphasise the turn away from using “force”.
Their overall national target was set at 7%, and the LMP at 25%. The focus was to aggressively pursue recruitment, retention, and progression of minority ethnic officers and staff. Initiatives varied from Force to Force, but included targeted advertising, mentoring, familiarisation days, open days, and seminars directed at minority groups. Today, the national percentages of minorities are 8.1% and 16.3% for the LMP, up from 2% and 3% in 1999.
In Guyana, because of intense pressure by the PPP during the 1960s’ riots – when the African-dominated Police and Volunteer Forces had displayed ethnic partiality – the British had established an ethnically balanced Special Services Unit (SSU) in 1964. It was disbanded in 1965 by the PNC. But as part of the British-imposed conditions for granting independence, an International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) panel was deployed to investigate ethnic representativeness in state institutions.
It recommended a 75% recruitment of Indians until the GPF became representative of the population. After observing the stricture for a year, the PNC reverted to the old pattern. While one could understand the PNC’s rationale for its realpolitik, the PPP’s stance after 1992 was very circumspect.
Ashton Chase – a founder of the PPP, and a perennial insider – speculated that the party “allowed these recommendations to go abegging for fear of being stigmatised as an ‘Indian’ party.” After riots greeted the PPP’s electoral victory in 1992, the B.O. Adams Commission of Inquiry recommended that “the Police Force be more ethnically balanced, and that the Government have a Riot Response Plan to contain any future recurrence.”
Whatever the reasons, the contradictions arising from de-professionalised, imbalanced forces did not disappear: violence rose to unprecedented heights – and unexpected breadth – after 1998. In 2003, under a direct Constitutional mandate, a Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) took submissions across the country on how to professionalise the Forces. They submitted their recommendations to Parliament in 2004. On the matter of ethnic representativeness, they declared: “The Commission…is of the view that the allaying of ethnic security fears which stem from the predominance of Afro-Guyanese presence in the GPF must be addressed…but to ensure, in so doing, that no similar insecurity fears are caused in the Afro-Guyanese community.”
As ROAR had proposed in its submission, the DFC recommended, “It should be an aim (of the GPF) to achieve a Force representative of the ethnic diversity of the nation without employing a quota system.” The DFC also recommended, as had the British in this area, that: “Ethnically diverse recruitment and promotion panels…be employed as openly and extensively as possible.”
The DFC’s Report was unanimously approved by Parliament in 2010, and since the Opposition are now concerned about the GPF’s performance, perhaps they would now support the Government in establishing its representativeness as part of their needed professionalism.