Professionalise the Police Force

Professionalise the Police Force

Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev

In the last two weeks, I looked at the composition of our disciplined forces from the perspective of our Ethnic Security Dilemmas. It is a political perspective. One can, of course, look at those forces (or any other phenomena) from any other number of angles but we have to ask, “what is the objective of the examination.” The objective of my analysis and comments was to confront our most fundamental structural problem and bring stability with justice in Guyana.

The scholar Cynthia Enloe, who taught at UG for a while, focused on the phenomena of ethnic conflict in the seventies advised: “The resolution of inter-ethnic conflict demands that armies and police forces be examined not as neutral instruments that cope with problems, but as potential causes of the problems as well.”

The fundamental cause of our endemic conflict has been a political one based on the ethnic cleavages in our society. While each state institution has to confront and deal with the area of national concern for which it was organized, we should not lose sight of the relation of the institution to the underlying political conflict. State institutions are, by definition, institutions through which the power of the state is exercised, and are inevitably flashpoints for social struggle.

Enloe went on to state, “Any lasting resolution of ethnic conflict may require that the distribution of political authority and influence in the society be basically reordered and that, as part of that reordering, the police and military be ethnically reconstituted at the top and the bottom. Resolution of inter-ethnic conflict will be tenuous if the security that is achieved is merely state security and not security for each of the state’s resident communities.”

Few objective analysts would argue that our Police Force has served the interests of our people positively over its history beginning in 1839. The problem, lies not necessarily with the individuals who comprise the Force (even though any organisation will have its share of bad apples) but with the nature of the force itself. The Police Force was constituted as a “force” to pacify, first the newly-freed African slaves and then the Indentured Indians. Its organization, modus operandi and its ethos were all geared towards keeping the natives “in their place”. What has changed in those areas since independence?

            The reality is that most Guyanese look at the force through ethnic lenses and only complain when their group is facing the fire – literally. From the beginning, ROAR called for the Disciplined Forces to be professionalised. Our early calls in the late eighties were interpreted as partisan – and anti-PNC - since the forces by then had been made appendages to that regime. Our specific calls for the forces to be professionalised by “streamlining it, decentralising it and balancing it” after the January 12th ethnic riots, were  again seen in that light – even though events had unfortunately unfolded in accordance with the predictions of our analysis. Most focused only on the “balancing” recommendation – disregarding the wider recommendations for professionalisation – many of which have been incorporated in later official (domestic and foreign) recommendations. When Indian businessmen were being picked off with impunity during 1998 (some thirty in a one-year span of 1998-1999) Indians cried foul. After the Police Target Squad became judge, jury and hangmen soon after and began targeting young Africans for execution, Africans cried foul and an “African Guyanese Armed Resistance” was organised.

            It is now clear there were two reactions to the last response – both of which betrayed a total lack of confidence in the Police Force. There was firstly the response organised by Indian businessmen that very quickly moved from defensive protection to offensive protection. Secondly, it is also clear to me that the Government, unable to motivate the Force to carry out their duties professionally, also resorted to hired guns to deal with the “resistance” which, by then has taken on and taken out the Target squad. 

Our central contention, however, is that we cannot only focus on the tasks of the police and ignore its fundamental flaws that impact on our major ethnic security dilemmas. This goes to the very survival of our state. The Disciplined Forces Commission – in which David Granger – now President – was a Commissioner recommended in 2004, that the Forces be made more representative. A friend asked why didn’t the PPP fix matters. I think, contrary to Ramkarran’s recent protestations, they were paralysed by the “anticipated reactions” of the entrenched status quo.