Many little ways
February 19, 2007
It has been argued many times before that fundamental change in the way the police force conducts itself will come only when the sweeping reforms of the Disciplined Forces Commission and other such bodies are implemented. Hence, the outcomes of the annual police officers' conferences are unlikely to be far-reaching and certainly not epochal. Yet, there are very many little ways in which the hierarchy of the force can infuse positive change which will not only draw the police closer to the community but would also improve security and help the police to professionally discharge their mandate.
Last month, a letter was sent to this newspaper by an incensed jeweller, Mr Tanieram Doodnauth. He had every right to be upset. His wife Ashmini was mortally wounded on November 28, 2006 while the couple was making their way into their home. They had obviously been victims of a well-planned ambush where the criminals plot and perpetrate without hindrance or exhibiting any concern about police intervention. After several days in hospital, Mrs Doodnauth succumbed to her wounds.
Up to the time that Mr Doodnauth wrote to this newspaper on January 31, 2007 not a single policeman had gone to his premises to take a formal statement on the incident in which his wife was grievously wounded. The police had turned up on the night of the incident to take a report but given the trauma and the stress to the Doodnauth family a statement could not have been taken that day. Arrangements were subsequently made by the investigating policeman to return at a later date. He called later and changed plans promising to take the statement at a later date. Mr Doodnauth never heard from him again, although the very day the letter and a news item on the matter appeared in this newspaper the police visited him at his home to take the statement.
Now, what does this unforgivable lapse say to the public? It says that even armed robbery/murder investigations are treated in a most cavalier fashion by investigators in the police force. Second, that in this particular case, if Mr Doodnauth had excellent information/descriptions of the perpetrators, by the time the police got around to it the murderers could have been in Suriname or Cayenne. Third, there appears to be a mindset in the police force that convinces it that rigorous and swift investigations would not lead to the apprehension of the suspects and the formulation of a solid case against them. Fourth there appeared to be no questions asked by the superiors of the policeman in question about a formal statement in this matter. The police have said nothing publicly about this dereliction of duty and no one has been charged as yet in connection with Mrs Doodnauth's murder.
If the police force could inspire change within its ranks to ensure that lapses such as the one in Mrs Doodnauth's case doesn't occur ever it would have taken a meaningful step.
If the police could so persuade its members that they shouldn't offer perjured testimony as two recently did in the West Demerara courts, the force would be in better shape.
If the force could sternly set itself against the prevalent practice of policemen, particularly traffic ranks, demanding a bribe it would have made an important statement.
If the police could provide timely responses to queries dispatched to it by the Police Complaints Authority it would send a powerful signal to those complainants that transgressions by the police would be taken seriously.
If the police were to ensure that its prosecutors and witnesses attend court as required and conduct themselves professionally they would be better positioned to ensure law and order.
If the police were to handle calls of woe to the police stations with the required urgency, tact and respectfulness they would have moved a step ahead on the reform process.
If the police were to treat seriously with complaints of domestic violence it would spare families much woe and bloodshed.
As it is, given the multitude of reform angles: the disciplined forces report, the Symonds report, Kerik, an unconfirmed police commissioner, the national commission on crime, a mystery Peruvian advisor and the IDB citizens security project it is difficult to see how change is going to come in a structured manner and when.
The force is never averse to taking on big projects that hardly ever yield anything. The statement from its last conference said that the force would "aggressively" pursue the reduction of illegal firearms, a problem that has led to numerous bloody and vicious murders and robberies. Perhaps that it is a New Year's resolution. When they swooped on an illegal arms cache in North Ruimveldt last year the police force failed to pursue the real culprit and allowed the accomplice to escape with a light sentence. Perhaps, for the time being, the force should focus on the little things. They can add up to a lot.