Article 32 of the Constitution states that “it is the joint duty of the state, the society and every citizen to combat and prevent crime and other violations of the law.” In keeping with this, the Ministry of Public Security and the Guyana Police Force have endeavoured to build relationships in communities across the country in order to fulfil this mandate.
Aided by Community Relations Officers and Community Policing Groups (CPG), the Force aims to work in partnership with citizens to better detect, suppress and prevent crime.
Enforcement through community engagement
The programme operates under the philosophy that any resident can contribute to the development of safe and stable neighbourhoods and communities.
National Administrator of Community Policing, Mr. Dennis Pompey agrees. He noted that young people are important stakeholders in this process as their involvement in community activities and service reinforces a sense of ownership and responsibility to their communities.
“We have seen lawyers, doctors, teachers and pastors that are coming into CPG and that are giving back to the community, not only their man-hours in terms of patrolling, but trying to educate those persons who are within the CPG so they could perform at a higher level,” he said. Mr. Pompey also noted that CPGs comprise mostly of young people and account for over 30 per cent of community police, ranging from ages 24-34.
The education effort is also bolstered by training programmes covering topics like domestic violence, conflict resolution, trafficking in persons, social cohesion, and basic principles in mediation. The CPGs are provided with land and water transportation by the Government, after which the group is tasked with the maintenance of the equipment.
There are 210 community policing groups comprising 4,255 members across the country. That number rivals the total population of the GPF, which stands currently at 4,639 officers. Citizens, therefore, are the driving forces in the safety and stability of their communities.
In 2018 a total of 262 arrests were made by community police. In February 2018, a Soesdyke CPG, after they had gathered intelligence through surveillance, were, in tandem with police, able to dismantle a carjacking ring based at the East Bank Demerara village and operating from Vryheids Lust on the East Coast of Demerara.
Augmenting the force in the hinterland
Community police have also significantly augmented the services of the GPF in the far-flung and interior regions.
In his address at the annual Police Officers Conference in 2016, President David Granger had emphasised the importance of community policing in the ongoing efforts to curb crime and had noted that it was an important bridge between the community and police.
“Community policing establishes partnerships and these partnerships emphasise problem solving and they place emphasis on public safety and public service, with the aim of improving the quality of life,” the President said.
The Head of State had then called for CPGs to be established, particularly in hinterland and ‘frontier’ villages to support professional law enforcement. This partnership is especially important in interior locations, which covers vast terrains and often does not fully benefit from all of the manpower or equipment needed to ensure the deterring of crime.
It is in keeping with this charge, Mr. Pompey said, that the Community Policing group, stepped up its efforts to establish more CPGs.
“After His Excellency visited the interior, he saw the need for community policing and, based on his advice, we went in there and formed groups in Barima-Waini (Region One), Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven), and Potaro–Siparuni (Region Eight) … What you find there, is the police population is very small, so in some communities you find 15 and 20 CPG members [who] add to the strength of the Guyana Police Force,” Mr. Pompey said.
Barima-Waini (Region One) is one area which has seen a notable response from residents to join CPGs. The Region boasts 12 groups with 189 members spread throughout the villages of Port Kaituma, Matthews Ridge, Kumaka, and Yarakita. In cases where the national police are not familiar with the location’s geography, it is the community police that assist them in that regard.
Improving community relations
Mr. Pompey said that he believes that the relationship and trust between communities and the police is now stronger.
“The bridge is being strengthened, because you find that police can go into communities now and get the support from the community. Police are going in and forming youth clubs and getting people to understand what is community policing,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Ms. Maxine Graham also noted that a proactive approach to policing has had a tremendous impact on crime fighting for the Force.
“If you have proactive policing it would be able to curb a lot of things that are happening. So, when we reach out to the community it is better for us… When you are active in the community, persons see what you are doing and they want to come out and tell you things [that] they may be seeing [or about] things [that are] happening in the area… [They] want to come forward, but don’t know how to… Because of the partnership that we have now, we have persons giving us a lot of information and we’re working on it and solving crimes,” Ms. Graham said.
There are seven police divisions and each division has an assigned Community Relations Officer who works with community groups to engage young people. This is especially important because young people are often targeted by seasoned criminals. As such, the Force has increased its interactions with youth and it has already noted a reduction in crime.
“We’re seeing the benefits of it right now because in certain areas where you had increased… crimes with youth, you [see] a decrease because we’re trying to filter their energies into other areas which are more meaningful,” Ms. Graham said.
Deputy Commissioner (Law Enforcement), Mr. Lyndon Alves also believes that this approach has been instrumental in reducing crime. The Force saw a 22.4 per cent reduction in serious crimes in 2018 compared with 2017.
“We recognise that youth are the vulnerable ones out there who have been targeted by career criminals so we think that engaging them and getting them involved in activities and creating opportunities for them, would aid in our fight against crime,” he said.
Since 2014 after an initial attempt to improve community relations through project “Impact Albouystown”, a low enforcement and social intervention project launched to decrease criminal activity among youth in community, the Guyana Police Force has been getting more collaborations with young people and every weekend community relations officers have been conducting activities with young people across the country.
Deputy Commissioner Alves said that the Guyana Police Force cannot afford to lose the support of civil society. To that end, maintaining good community relations through engagements with the public remains a central focus of the Government of Guyana and the Ministry of Public Security through the Guyana Police Force.