ATTACKING CRIME FROM ITS ROOTS
Crime is like a wild vine. If it is not pulled out from the roots it grows and spreads and consumes every available space. In the human society, it affects people everywhere, people from all walks of life. No one is spared, not the elderly, not defenceless children, not the infirm nor the hard working shopkeeper or bottom-house refrigerator repairman or woman struggling to make ends meet. Without any active or effective measures to curb criminal enterprise, Guyana’s mostly youthful denizens who were most likely attracted to the easily gotten spoils, became much bolder in recent years, so much so that that they no longer depend on the cover of darkness. Ordinary citizens, relatives visiting from abroad, small and large scale entrepreneurs and senior citizens living alone are being attacked with alarming frequency in the secure comfort of their homes, or on the way home at any time of day or night. Often it appears that the bandits know just what they intend to collect – foreign currency, jewellery, travel documents and expensive electronics, and they’re not shy about demanding it. This new underground industry was not spawned yesterday. The masterminds learnt the trades many years ago. In the last two decades, especially following the infamous 2002 Camp Street jail break and the rise of Roger Khan’s Phantom Squad (reminiscent of former Haitian Presidents Papa and Baby Doc’s Ton Ton Macoutes), people have been able to acquire guns of every calibre. We’ve received reports that certain criminal masterminds conduct training ‘schools’ for boys and girls that specialize in the techniques of identifying vulnerable citizens, taking their possessions and making a clean get-away. This ‘industry’ evolved into bolder crimes such as tailing unsuspecting citizens from the airports after they had picked up visiting relatives, and from commercial banks after they had collected large sums of money. Home invasions have become much more frequent. The incidents occur with such a mind-boggling sameness that citizens have begun to wonder why law enforcement including Community Policing are not better prepared or willing to nab the perpetrators. Prior to the advent of the new government, little to no effort was made to deconstruct this scourge in Guyana, anticipate the crimes and institute citizens’ education programmes. Recently President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo called in every Minister with any responsibility for lawful or social security and the heads of every law enforcement agency to iron out a strategy to minimize major and petty crimes. They began an arduous process to identify the types of interventions by every Ministry and agency which is needed to curb the spike in crime and to sustain national security. Statistics compiled by an enterprising journalist revealed that this recent uptick in deadly criminal activities could be traced back to 2014, but in the first 6 months of this year approximately 80 murders were committed, 14 of which were execution-style killings in Georgetown, in near rural areas and the hinterland gold fields. Some of these incidents were the result of domestic discordance that resulted in crimes of passion (6 women slain by their partners), and the vast majority it could be assumed, were fuelled by greed, drugs and alcohol. The President’s initiative will go to the roots of the problem that most likely has its genesis in the social conditions in which criminals were raised and the influences on their pre-teen and adolescent lives. This is the purview of the Ministries of Social Cohesion, Labour and Social Welfare. Much like court-ordered investigations for probation reports, the ministries’ investigators will have to delve into the lives of the known criminals. One dares to hope that in the process they will unearth information that will lead to other, more dangerous criminals who have so far been able to evade the law. The broad anti-crime strategy that was already devised and put on the table includes an amnesty for carriers of illegal weapons of any calibre, and those deadly knives the likes of which were seen in the series of Rambo movies. The Commissioner of Police by today should have presented to the Minister of Public Security a workable strategy for the gun amnesty programme. It is expected that the amnesty initiative will not be executed by the Guyana Police Force. This is to encourage the owners/carriers of unlicensed guns of any age and from any community to feel free to walk in to the specified civic or religious centres and voluntarily give up their weapons without fear of being held. It should be known, however, that this amnesty will last for a specific period of time after which, the full force of the law will be applied to any person caught with unlicensed firearms. Simultaneously, the strategy addresses the avenues of infiltration or importation of guns, tracking devices and the electronic paraphernalia used in the execution of crimes. It will likely involve an arm of the Customs Administration Department as well as the Guyana Defence Force’s border protection unit to patrol by air, sea and land Guyana’s long, forested borders with neighbouring countries that manufacture and sell small arms. Additionally, the anti-drug smuggling units that monitor smuggling along the Atlantic coastline in Demerara and Essequibo, along the Corentyne River, and at the Takutu Bridge, would also be involved in this initiative. The Police Force’s Marine Wing as well as the mounted branch and canine units will also be equipped to contribute to the daily crime-fighting effort. Communication among police units on the streets and their base command will also be improved with new internet-ready equipment for real-time communication while post-event investigations will be helped by additional CCTV cameras mounted on major streets and minor roads, inside communities and on selected buildings. All of this indicates that a major revamp of the Police Force will soon be underway. Apart from intensive at-home and overseas training in basic and advanced policing, the force’s institutional capacity will be simultaneously enhanced. All ranks over time will be exposed to computer training, beginning with operators and peripheral staff for the emergency 911 system. In addition, the ranks functioning in non-core policing work, e.g. financial management and human resource development, will be re-trained to improve their efficiency and transform the police force into a fully functional public service entity.