When the police became afraid
By Dale Andrews
July 25, 2004
There was a time in Guyana’s recent history when even those who were entrusted with the task of ensuring our safety were afraid.
The young men who enlisted in the Guyana Police Force had sworn to protect life and property and serve the interest of the law-abiding citizenry, come high or hell water.
They were guaranteed under the constitution to apprehend and if necessary use force to rid the state of criminal elements in our midst.
But at one point, when the nation became afraid, it appeared that there was no one to turn to because those whom we put our trust in were afraid.
This situation did not occur overnight. In fact, in my opinion, there was one incident that led to this sorry state of affairs.
The Guyana Police Force, now 165 years has always prided itself with having the upper hand in the society.
Even when political influences sought to derail its professionalism, the Guyana Police Force has stood firm.
No one expected that criminals would have created such a dilemma that policemen, even those on traffic duty would be apprehensive about carrying out their functions.
Their actions prompted the administration to invest millions of dollars in new firearm and protective gear.
The police were dropping like flies, as they became the primary target of bandits who were on a campaign of terror.
There was a time when the police locked their gates.
There was a time when they erected prison-like fences to protect themselves from gunmen who brazenly targeted police stations.
The bandits’ activities seemed to follow a plan as their first target was the fearless combat cop Leon Fraser.
This certainly put a dent in the morale of policemen who saw Fraser as the main threat to the bandits marauding activities.
On the day he was killed I could vividly remember seeing his fellow ranks shedding tears as news of his death sent Guyana into a tailspin.
But even then the police were still not apprehensive and in the next two weeks after Frazer’s death, local cops were relentless in their pursuit of criminals who by now were getting bolder.
But on May 25, 2002, the entire scenario changed. The bandits went into overdrive.
Four policemen were on patrol in the Coldingen area.
They had spotted a car going down a dam and since the dam was seldom used by vehicles except for the GUYSUCO tractors, they became suspicious.
These were the brave policemen of the East Coast of Demerara who had no indication that bandits were beginning to go on the offensive against policemen.
There was a time when bandits would only try to harm policemen if they themselves were being pursued.
But this case was different.
The police were lured to a dark area along the dam and just as they were about to turn back, having lost the car they were following, gunshots rang out.
It was the most unexpected attack on a party of policemen.
Not seeing their attackers, all the ranks bolted for cover, some even took to a nearby trench.
One of the ranks recalled having to play dead as one of the gunmen stood over him shouting, “dead y’all s….’
The gunmen then torched the patrol vehicle.
All of the ranks were injured and one of them Constable Alleyne died a few days later.
That night, May 25, 2002, was the night I first saw the real fear in the eyes of policemen.
I was sent on the assignment at Coldingen.
When I got there, I saw a set of heavily armed policemen complete with bullet proof vests standing on the Coldingen Main Road about three hundred yards from where the police vehicle was engulfed in flames.
The fire tender was there, but no effort was being made to venture near the vehicle to put out the flames.
I went to one of the senior police ranks and enquired why was it they were standing there staring and doing nothing.
His reply took me by surprise.
“Boy me ain’t going deh. Dem men shooting at police and we ain’t get proper gear.” He showed me his bullet-proof vest which could barely cover his torso.
I was frustrated because I had travelled all the way from the city to photograph the scene, and I was wary of going too close without the police.
I began urging the police to at least secure the area so that I could get closer to the burning vehicle.
They still refused.
It was not until two other off-duty ranks arrived that my hopes began to rise.
As if they were embarrassed by their colleagues’ lack of courage, these two brave ranks opted to go and examine the vehicle.
They were armed and warned me that it would be dangerous for me to follow them since sporadic gunshots could still be heard.
Nevertheless we started on the 300-yard trek to the vehicle. We crouched as we approached the vehicle and I told the cops of my idea, which was to flash my camera when we were a certain distance away from the vehicle to see whether it would draw any gunshots.
As we got to within fifty yards of the vehicle, I flashed my camera. There was no response.
I flashed it again and we were able to confirm that there was no one within firing distance of us.
Myself and the two brave policemen began to relax and I managed to get several close up shots of the vehicle.
When we returned to where the others ranks were, I felt certain that they would have had to be brave enough to do what we did.
But they were not.
From that day I realised that most of the policemen were now bitterly afraid of confronting heavily armed bandits.
I recall interviewing robbery victims who related that the police would enquire if the bandits had guns before they could respond to the scene.
It took the fearless members of the Guyana Defence Force to take up the slack.
But all this has changed for the better now.
The police are now more equipped and are better protected.
Now they are venturing into areas that were once considered off-limits.
But many Guyanese can confirm that beginning May 25, 2002 to February 2003, members of the police force were unsettled and fear lurked in their hearts as many wondered which of their colleagues would be the next to fall.