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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Fighting crime
Editorial, Stabroek News

There have been repeated calls for better strategies and firmer action to fight the ongoing wave of armed crime. Yet there have been previous reports dealing directly or indirectly with this problem, most notably the report of the Disciplined Forces Commission two years ago which contained a large number of detailed recommendations. If even some of them had been implemented it would have made a major contribution to the crime fighting capacity of the security forces. The problem, then, has not been a lack of ideas about what should be done but a failure to put into practice the valuable recommendations that already exist. The announcement by the government a few months ago of another broad based advisory commission on law and order, which appears to have been stillborn, was quite rightly seen as an exercise in futility and an avoidance of the responsibility for taking action on existing reports.

The forum convened last week at City Hall by the opposition parliamentary parties to discuss strategies to fight crime must be seen in that context. The issue is not really what to do but how to get something done. The two main presentations by Dr Michael Scott, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Guyana and Mr Christopher Ram, Principal Partner of the accounting firm Ram & Mc Rae, both gave a useful overview of the crime situation though they were both perhaps, particularly the latter, too wide ranging and comprehensive for a forum of this type which sought to come up with concrete recommendations. Regrettably, the ensuing discussions were comprehensively derailed by the opening speaker who did not focus on the issue at hand and, ignoring the chairperson Ms Debbie Backer's request that there be no speeches but suggestions and ideas, launched into a rambling and aggressive tirade.

It is entirely proper that the opposition parties should take an active public role in issues of this kind, and this initiative was welcome at a time when the nation is beleaguered by gun crime. The theme, too, was commendable, `Unity for security - stand up against crime and violence' which showed a clear willingness to work together with the government, an implicit challenge to the ruling party's continuing effort to link the main opposition party with some aspects of crime. Regrettably, the government did not accept the invitation to attend, thus nullifying at the outset any hope for joint recommendations that would have had considerable moral authority. It would be extremely desirable to have a broad political consensus on the way to deal with the major security threats to the nation namely narco-trafficking, the Buxton gunmen and the prevalence of guns, though whether a public forum would be the right venue for such sensitive discussions must be questioned. A private meeting of all the parliamentary parties would be more likely to be productive.

At an operational level certain simple steps can surely be taken by the police to lessen urban crime. In the first place, ensure that there will be an immediate response to the 911 number which is provided for persons to call. It is well known that in the case of the armed robbery of the jewellery shop in New Market street neighbours rang that number almost as soon as the robbery started and they could get no response. The burglars were on the premises for over fifteen minutes and the police station is a few minutes away. That is an unforgivable lapse in this most basic mechanism to ensure an effective and timely response. And there have been other reports to the same effect. There should be more than one person manning the 911 and other emergency numbers on a 24-hour basis. Moreover, that control room should have immediate links to armed mobile police patrols which can set off at once. An effective operation of that kind would have an immediate and dramatic effect on the current situation where criminals strike with virtual impunity. And it should not cost much, all that is required is organisation.

Mr Deryck Bernard said that a document will be presented within two weeks summarising the discussions at the forum and the recommendations. Perhaps a further effort can be made that stage to send the government a copy of that document with a view to opening a discussion on a joint programme to deal with the ongoing crime and violence.