Last week’s public disclosure of the emoluments of policemen and women evoked some level of public ‘hum.’ Comments focused mostly on what was felt to be the paltriness of the remuneration. Some of the discussants wondered aloud as to whether the salaries afforded those cops on the lower rungs of the ladder, particularly, do not, in fact, contextualize embedded allegations of corrupt practices in the Force.
The argument that salary levels ought not to be posited as justification (or explanation) for the perpetration of practices that bring the Force into disrepute will always hold a generous measure of weight. One of the responses to that argument has been that functionaries who fall into the categories of Public Servants (and the Police are, in effect, Public Servants) have all, traditionally, found themselves in the same circumstance as far as emoluments are concerned but that not everyone had yielded to the temptation to subsidize their incomes through the pursuit of unwholesome options.
There are those who contend, on the other hand, that if only because of the particular responsibilities with which policemen and women are saddled there is always the risk that dissatisfaction over remuneration will trigger the pursuit of questionable opportunities that are at their disposal to secure salary ‘subsidies.’
The Guyana experience instructs us, of course, that where force of circumstances arise, the constraint of moral probity is, all too frequently, set aside.
All that said, it is altogether true that the Guyana Police Force has done a good deal less than it might have done, institutionally, over the years, to burnish its image. Some of its failings have been sufficiently public, sufficiently pronounced and sufficiently unattended to as to cause the Force not to have a proverbial leg to stand on insofar as the mounting of a sustained and credible effort to recover its long lost integrity is concerned.
Repairing the considerable deficiency in the level of public recognition of and respect for the Police Force’s role as the country’s most important law enforcement institution, is by far the Force’s biggest challenge at this time. That said, it is not one that has been seen to have been taken as seriously as the circumstances warrant.
The Force, it must be said, is largely answerable for its considerably diminished public recognition as the bastion of law enforcement, a circumstance that redounds not just to its own discredit but also to the discredit of our country, as a whole.
In these times, particularly, the leadership of the Force needs to be reminded that the extent of the effectiveness with which the law is administered is one of those barometers that investors use in making decisions on the wisdom of their investments. That consideration is particularly relevant to Guyana at this time.
One of the more talked-about dimensions to the diminished image of the Force as a pillar of law enforcement has been the widespread belief that it is, itself, up to its proverbial gills in situations that are by no means coterminous with uprightness and attention to the tenets of law enforcement. Unless and until that public perception is removed (or at least significantly diminished) the Force will continue to be on a hiding to nowhere insofar as public perceptions of what it stands for is concerned. One feels, unfortunately, that embarkation on a course that would meaningfully alter public perception of what the Force represents and what it stands for does not appear to be at the peak of the Force’s (or the government’s) list of the Force’s priorities at this time.
The Force, through its own failure to deploy the rules in its traffic management regime, for example, has come to be seen as executing a traffic management ‘policy’ that is studded with shameless shakedowns of traffic offenders. There exists an acute awareness of these practices at the highest levels of the Force. Little wonder that observers have long come around to the view that the persistence of the ‘traffic hustle’ is a function of its official ‘acceptance’ as a sanctioned ‘side hustle’ for underpaid cops.
It is not difficult to see how ‘arrangements’ such as this can easily slip into dimensions of ‘darkness.’ In our particular instance this has been manifested in what is now widely regarded as a getting into bed between policemen and minibus operators, the former providing ‘cover’ for transgressions by the latter, many of whom are wholly unreliable ‘partners,’ given their proclivity for the ‘wild side’ as far as regard for road rules are concerned. ‘Connections’ with traffic cops have armed those minibus operators with a sense of empowerment that causes them to see themselves as being immune from sanctions associated with the operation of their buses.
One particularly distasteful manifestation of traffic administration is what often appears to be the ad hoc creation of seemingly random ‘checkpoints,’ some of them close to police stations, where motorists whose ‘papers’ are deficient in one respect or another, are confronted with a choice of either ‘coughing up’ or facing a charge.
Time was when these traffic ‘campaigns’ used to occur less frequently and with far greater mindfulness of discretion. Those days are now behind us, supplanted by unwholesome ‘transactions’ that frequently occur with both traffic ranks and uniformed officers in attendance.
What is noteworthy about these departures from the rules pertaining to the administration of traffic is that they never seem to come up for incisive contemplation at the appropriate levels. They persist with the kind of monotonous regularity as if they have become grafted on to the substantive traffic administration rules themselves. What appears to obtain in the realm of traffic administration and in some other areas of the administration of law and order, as a whole, often appears to not fit into any clearly defined regimen of rules and regulations. Neither at the level of Cabinet nor at the level of the high command of the Force itself do we ever hear anything resembling expressions of concern over what so often appears to be startling anomalies in aspects of our traffic management.
One wonders too whether what has been doing the rounds about the emergence of ‘understandings’ between minibus operators and traffic ranks that work to the benefit of both sides, does not represent a further descent into the ‘hijacking’ of the law that has the effect of further ‘empowering’ those minibus operators who seek to ‘own’ the law’ and a traffic management regime that appears only too willing to oblige.
Tragically, people are beginning, increasingly, to embrace the view that the practices that inform the Force’s traffic management regime extend into other areas of law enforcement.