Criminals beware… a new sheriff in town By Michael Benjamin
June 20, 2004
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It took months of bickering, mud slinging and personal attacks, but finally the two major political parties acquiesced, paving the way for the resumption of the earlier aborted talks between the leaders of the People's National Congress, Robert Corbin and the People's Progressive Party, President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Such political maturity paved the way for the installation of the Discipline Service Commission, and Winston Felix to the position of Commissioner of Police.
During the watch of the former Commissioner, Floyd McDonald, a wide cross section of the Guyanese public was disgruntled by the modus operandi of some police officers who conducted investigations.
Many persons openly voiced their disapproval over the unorthodox tactics used by the police to solicit information in their crime fighting efforts.
The public unanimously saw a need for stringent and positive changes within the Guyana Police Force, if only to rekindle the confidence that once existed.
Following the resumption of talks between the two political parties and the installation of Felix, Guyanese began to breathe a little easier.
Many expected immediate results and remained totally oblivious to the magnitude of the task.
Immediately, senior police officers, sidelined over the years, finally received their just reward and were promoted.
During the dark days of police dominance, one of the major complaints of the police was that the good relationship previously enjoyed with the public had dwindled considerably. Police officers had complained that citizens were not coming forward with vital information to stem the flow of criminal activity.
Members of the public, in defense of such actions, had accused the police of betrayal and many an informer's life was placed in grave danger after rogue officers, despite promising anonymity, spilled the beans in exchange for immoral tokens.
Under the initial watch of Felix, Solomon Blackman went berserk, infiltrated the precincts of the Brickdam Police Station, disarmed the gate sentry and mortally wounded a senior, and a junior police rank. Solomon had also inflicted serious injuries on several others unfortunate policemen. He is now before the courts.
Those days when persons suspected of criminal activity were killed by law enforcement officers are still indelible in the minds of citizens. Policemen had cited self defense. One cannot forget that following his shooting rampage Solomon was subdued with a shot to his leg.
Such restraint by police officers was unheard of and raised quite a few eyebrows. Those who had been calling for the neck of indiscriminate officers who misused their power were suddenly stunned into silence. They felt that the police had every justification to slaughter Solomon yet they let him off the hook.
Maybe this was the first of decisive moves that signaled a desire by the new Commissioner to restore confidence in his troops.
Shortly after this incident a story was peddled through the grapevine that a young man, who had recently imported an expensive motorcar from the United States of America, was held while driving his vehicle without adhering to the basic traffic requirements.
An observant rank had hauled the errant driver over and subsequently escorted him to the Brickdam Police station. We were informed that a senior rank ordered the release of the vehicle without addressing the required formalities.
Shortly afterwards, we were informed, that the Commissioner got wind of the illicit transaction and ordered the immediate re-arrest of the errant driver and the detention of the vehicle. People were beginning to take note.
Then there was the case in West Ruimveldt. While the residents were enjoying blissful rest, three armed bandits infiltrated their domain and attempted to relieve them of their hard earned possessions. The police were informed and rushed to the scene.
It is now history that one man, Rickford Slowe, was mortally wounded while his accomplices, Paul Waterman and Sherwin Costello, were apprehended after the policemen had restrained them with several shots to their legs and arms.
It is highly commendable that despite holding the onus to slaughter the bandits who were all caught red handed in the act, the officers simply maimed and subsequently arrested them. Slowe was unfortunate because he chose to engage the officers in a gunfight.
If there were doubts concerning a changed attitude of police officers, the above incidents should clear those doubts.
Minutes after the ranks had apprehended the thieves, this writer visited the Ruimveldt Police station where the ranks were relaxing after successfully arresting the duo.
Most of the officers were armed with high-powered weapons but the officers explained that after they had assessed the situation they had realised that the bandits were armed with small caliber weapons. The ranks then decided to confine their response to the use of small artillery in subduing the bandits.
It is now glaringly true that the members of the Guyana Police Force are coming around to the realisation that modern day police work is not only about brute force.
Obviously, these officers have now come to appreciate that the knowledge procured through training and improved relations with the public is the way to go.
Such tactics have produced excellent results in the past and it is obvious that they will once again produce excellent results.
One must not forget that the troops can only be as good as their leader. Criminals should take note. A new sheriff is in town. His name is Winston Felix and he is riding a dark horse.