Addressing Guyana Crime Epidemic

Addressing Guyana Crime Epidemic
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
As I travel around Guyana in June and July interacting with people on varied subjects, crime repeatedly comes up as a complaint. It is the number one problem in Guyana. Everyone feels crime is a major issue in the country and has been increasing as the economy has been declining and as unemployment has been rising.
It appears from the conversations that a lot of crimes (larcenies) are unreported. Although the government won't admit it, there is a crime epidemic. And much of the crime is racially motivated – Indians are targeted for robbery. The public is losing faith in the police to bring down crimes and or to detect and solve them. In fact, respondents say that many elements in the police are also involved in crime. Quick relief is needed so that public confidence in the police can be reversed and grow.
For car hijacking (or larceny of vehicles), burglary, hold ups (choke and rob), other praedial larceny, and other (especially violent crimes), Guyana seems to be a paradise. The detection and solution rate is very small. The murder rate is also worrying. People say one can get murdered in Guyana “just like that” – walking in the street or entering into home or defending or property against bandits. The criminals don’t care how they rob people; violence is not excluded as part of the larceny.
Bandits boldly rob people outside banks, in or outside their homes, in the streets near police or security officials. Many crimes are committed with violence. Bandits also operate in the open in front of mass of people who do nothing to come to the aid of victims. Pick pocket victims are also targeted among crowds. Even mini-bus passengers are victims of crime with holds happening inside the bus – yes, the bus is held up. The thieves are brazen in their trade and the police are unable to find them.
For a small country, Guyana has too many crimes. Don’t be fooled by stats that crime numbers are coming down; more than half the number of crimes are not actually reported, and as such are not included in the official stats. If one speaks with the public, as I did, you come across many victims who claim they never made a report to the police. Victims say filing a report is a waste of time because they feel police will not do much or anything about it. They complain that the police don’t help in recovery of loot or going after bandits even when the perpetrators are known and or are identified. Talk to victims, as I did in recently, and you will hear their complaints of how little the police did or are doing in curtailing crimes. Some victims don’t wish to publicly identify the criminals fearing a backlash; they say the criminals or their friends will come after them. Victims also complain about the judicial system that lets bandits off the hook with a proverbial “slap in the wrist” and the victims get virtually no restitution – stolen items hardly returned.
It is not enough to complain that some of the police are not doing their job. A joint effort by the public and the police is needed to solve runaway crime. People have to take control of their own safety in dangerous Guyana. Everyone has a role to play in this goal. Help the police to do their job. The public must work collaboratively with the police in reporting all crimes and assist in identifying and arresting the criminals.
There is need for police operational focus. The police needs strategic planning with the public. And a team effort is critical to reduce or solve crimes.
A localized operation is needed in each community to reduce crimes in that area. Community policing must be strengthened and expanded.
One suggestion to tackle crime is for police commanders in each area to hold meetings with the public and discusses strategies to end crime; seek the view of the public on how to reduce crime. One idea is for a structure to be set up to quickly to alert neighbors and police that a crime is being committed or was just committed with everyone playing a role to stop the perpetrators – through road blocks, etc. Everyone’s role is needed for such operations to be successful. Off course when there is danger (violence and threat to life), one has to be careful. The police must play a greater role in such operations. Also, there should be active patrol by police vehicles. Some police should be posted in high crime areas and move around to deter would be suspects.
Police should carry out random checks of vehicles for stolen goods and even cars – a warrant should not be needed when there is “reasonable cause to suspect vehicles are carrying stolen items or a vehicle was car jacked”. I saw similar searches in front of police stations with police opening trunks, looking into back seats, and the face of passengers. That type of operations should be expanded to major intersections or roadways -- not to harass drivers for a bribe for a violation but to identify and arrest criminals.

And most importantly, police should properly and urgently respond to citizens’ complaints. There must be accountability of the police (take note of every crime in an area and file a case report). Slow or poor police response is unacceptable. The judicial system must play its party by slapping maximum penalty. It will help if the President does not forgive or pardon larceny criminals; much of the nation is upset with the President for setting free bandits.