Police Shake Downs of Indians & Others in Guyana

Police Shake Downs of Indians & Others in Guyana

Police shakedowns (demand for a bribe for an alleged moving violation) of motorists are very common on the coast of Guyana. Indians are prime targets. I experienced it a few times and countless experiences of others were related to me as I travelled around Guyana and the diaspora.

The population also feels police shake down is a common practice targeting Indians and that the government-preceding ones also- has not done much to curb or stamp out police bribery. As many people reveal, to say elements of the police are corrupt is an understatement as they seek bribes in virtually every significant act, and not only from motorists alone. It is also important to note that there are some honest police who do their work and don’t seek or take bribes, but they are a small minority.

The typical shakedown scenario: getting stopped or pulled over, check for documents (insurance, drivers license, fitness, etc.) in order, description of the (likely) bogus infraction or alleged violation, threat of a hefty fine or dire consequences of the violation, request for a bribe to avoid paying the fine or spending long hours in court or having any record on your driver’s record.

Indians are prime targets and the bribe seekers are from another ethnicity; some Indian police also are involved in shakedowns. People are being taken advantage of on account of their ethnicity. There is virtually no one championing their interests.

Some common alleged violations: dangerous driving, overtaking on double lines (when there may not be any), speeding when you drive within the speed limit, running a stop sign or stop light, overtaking in a no passing zone or some other moving violation. Whatever the alleged violation, it is used by police to attempt to extract bribes. The moving violation is in all likelihood completely fabricated; this is not to deny some motorists are guilty of speeding or violating rules on overtaking, etc.

Overseas-based Guyanese (diaspora) visiting Guyana do find themselves as easy preys as many related experiences to me. They take their experiences in a light manner with Guyanese police being the target of a butt of jokes about bribe collection. A typical one is” “rite (write a ticket) or left (leave a bribe)”. And there are several other ways the police seek to shake down motorists.

As related to me by several who had the experience, if your vehicle (mini bus in particular) is from a far home distance, say from Corriverton (Skeldon), and you are heading up the airport, the chance of being pulled over and experience a shake down is high. And you could receive several shakedowns on one trip from Skeldon to Timehri. Because you are rushing to reach the airport and not be late to check in for a flight, the enraged passenger (s) in the vehicle just tell the motorists to pay the bribe. And if you are a local (not traveling abroad), because of the dire consequences of challenging the police on half-truths or outright lies, you pay the bribe. Going to court is time consuming and you lose more money by avoiding work. In all likelihood, the police commander or even the magistrate will not believe the motorist side of the incident or alleged violation. The police have the upper hand as the system is not in the interest of drivers or law and order on the roads.

One can attempt to avoid the shake down with limited success. For US or Canadian or UK resident visiting Guyana and confronted by police for a bribe, ask the officer's badge number and name. Say that your government (especially if US) require you to report the details of any incidents involving the police to the embassy. The bribe-seeking police may relent from the bribe for fear of being reported to authorities. Try to talk the police officer out of the bribe or try to lower the amount. But don’t pursue any action or use language that would anger the police – he or she is just hustling to supplement a low income. The system is that way and government pretends it does not exist.

There is no effective campaign to root out police corruption or even bad cops. The government can take measures to clamp down on corruption. As happens in other societies, there can be sting operations. But no government has shown courage to go after rogue cops. Do keep in mind that there are police who really have been trying to do their jobs. They don't have the support system and corrupt police make them look bad.