Problems affecting the Guyana Police Force not new or unique to this country
By Professor James Rose
August 25, 2003
The Police Force identified with, and represented the ruling colonial elite at the expense of the free black society. In its very origins therefore the colonial Police Force was partial and oppressive. The fundamental issue is that 164 years later, in spite of a major change in administrative complexion and significant elaboration of its role and functions the perception of the Police Force has not undergone much change.
THE GOG has, on the prompting of the Opposition, in response to a growing chorus of public concern and persuaded by its own conviction, established a Commission to review the role/function of the Disciplined Forces of Guyana, which review is currently underway. While the records do not suggest many, it is most certainly not the first time that the Disciplined Forces have been reviewed and I am certain it will not be the last. Indeed, I would not at all be surprised if the findings of this investigation mirror very closely the findings of the 1985 ‘review’. While it is reasonable to suppose that the Guyana Defence Force is also being investigated I shall on this occasion limit my focus to the Guyana Police Force.
The problems affecting the Guyana Police Force are not new nor are they unique to Guyana. The solutions to those problems are so complex that very often commissions of inquiry are seen as the solution in themselves rather than mechanisms established to point the way to real solutions. It would be unfortunate if this were to be the case once more.
Enslaved Africans won their freedom in 1838, the Guyana Police Force was established in 1839 and from the very beginning its mission was limited and most partial. For all the lofty verbiage associated with its establishment locally, it was an alien organism imposed on a colonial society by a powerful minority with the sole intention of restricting the freedoms and growth potential of the larger section of the society. The Police Force identified with, and represented the ruling colonial elite at the expense of the free black society. In its very origins therefore the colonial Police Force was partial and oppressive. The fundamental issue is that 164 years later, in spite of a major change in administrative complexion and significant elaboration of its role and functions the perception of the Police Force has not undergone much change.
Today the Police Force is still perceived as an administrative tool preoccupied with the protection of the interest of the ruling elite. Looked at in another way, the Police Force is still seen as the personification of the political system; symbolising the authority of the state, on occasions, in its worse possible forms. Given the fact that this instrument still enjoys the monopoly use of legitimate force and has, on occasions, been known to exercise this monopoly in an unthinking fashion, it is not all surprising that the negative stereotype has persisted.
Within recent times the negative perception has been aggravated by conspicuous indiscipline within the ranks, and allegations of endemic corruption, discriminatory law enforcement and political bias. Much of this has been fostered and encouraged by an immature administrative elite, reluctant to, or fearful of, curbing the growing excesses within the ranks. Some might even argue the case of over-indulgence and reckless opportunism. Poor recruitment practices, capital starvation, technological backwardness and the tendency to seek the quickest way up the shortest social ladder have added to the woes of the Force. And even these are, in turn, intensified by the recent upsurge in the traffic of narcotics, the consequential increase of violent crimes, political instability, sectional violence and a tardy and perhaps totally uninformed but most certainly unhelpful judicial system.
In almost similar circumstances a Commission some 40 years ago concluded that the abnormal and quasi-military demands placed on it in the lawless conditions of the past few years proved too much for it (the Police Force) on occasion that some officers and men fell short of the required standard of conduct.
Such a conclusion will not find acceptance in these times. A number of international organisations have compiled formidable dossiers of wrong doings within the Force while local NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have gone to considerable lengths to document perceived excesses and are unlikely to be restrained witnesses before the current tribunal.
At the end of the day, however, it would be nothing short of a travesty if the Commission were to be a mere fact finding mission. This would not only defeat the noble objective set by its architects, it would most certainly have missed out on a historic opportunity to contribute to the refashioning of the Guyana Police Force and in so doing would have, even if inadvertently, set dangerous preconditions for the perpetuation of the more obvious weaknesses in the Force and the growing popular disrespect for the Guyana Police Force.