Changing the ethnic face of the police
November 28, 2006
A Report by a United Nations Committee has raised an issue that has been the talk of forces in this country for the longest while, ever since Dr Cheddi Jagan acceded to the Presidency of Guyana. That issue deals with the ethnic composition of the Guyana Police Force.
The Force has, for almost as long as it has been in existence, been heavily populated by people of African ancestry. In 1992, Dr Cheddi Jagan expressed the view that the Guyana Police Force should reflect the ethnic composition of the country.
In its Report, the United Nations Committee said that the paucity of people of Indian ancestry in the Guyana Police Force would appear to be among the causes of the deaths in custody of many Indo-Guyanese. This would suggest that there is some inherent racist factor in the Police's treatment of prisoners.
A Special Presidential Commission to investigate whether former Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj was involved in extra-judicial killings also recommended some ethnic balance in the Guyana Police Force. This recommendation was presented to the government and the Police hierarchy nearly three years ago.
In the ensuing days, there was a distinct move to attract people of Indian ancestry to the Police Force, but from appearances, this seems to be meeting with a minimum of success. There were special concessions in the recruitment practices, and special recruitment centres were set up in areas largely populated by people of Indian ancestry. And indeed, some young Indian men turned up, but there is no correlation between their recruitment and their continued existence in the Force.
In some quarters, there is the view that men of Indian ancestry would shun the Guyana Police Force largely because of the pay and because of the regimen of discipline.
In the main, the people who join the Police Force these days are those who are unable to secure employment in any of the other sectors. The young men of Indian ancestry, in keeping with tradition, would tend to gravitate to agricultural pursuits, or to the sugar estates, where people of Indian ancestry predominate.
But something must be done to cause a shift in the ethnic composition of the Guyana Police Force, and it is here that the various communities need to take a hand. For too long, the wider society has been expecting the government to initiate action that would lead to the needed changes. However, this is not often possible, largely because the government is generally preoccupied with the wider picture of running a country.
This, then, leaves the role of getting people in the various communities to gravitate to the Guyana Police Force. There are still community leaders who wield some influence in the various communities. Some are village councillors while others are village elders. These were the people who objected to the organisations that attempted to promote HIV/AIDS education in certain communities, until they could no longer ignore the fact that these communities were AIDS infected.
It is no longer a given that young men would sit at the feet of the village elders and listen to the advice that these elders would give. No longer do community leaders wield the kind of power they once did, but surely they still have the ears of the young in the village, unless the young person is very disrespectful. And in any case, disrespectful people could never find a place in the Guyana Police Force.
Perhaps the time is ripe for elders in the society to be co-opted by the recruitment officers in the Guyana Police Force and made to work towards recruiting young people, particularly young men of Indian ancestry. Unless that is done, the shift in the ethnic composition of the Guyana Police Force may never be realised, and numerous commissions would end up making the same recommendations.
There is nothing in the psyche of the young Indian male that suggests that he could not be a policeman. In Berbice, where the Guyana Police Force has instituted Neighbourhood Policing, a large number of the members of these bodies are male of Indian ancestry.
Perhaps it is the non-permanent nature of the Neighbourhood Police that is responsible for the success.
This could be taken to a new level if only there is a concerted move to make young Indian men recognise that they could make a contribution.