Police have “arrest first, investigate later” policy – Complaints Authority

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…says many ranks unaware of SOPs, rights of citizens

Over the years, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) has had numerous complaints levelled against it, from random stopping of motorists to violating the rights of citizens during arrests or searches. But according to the Police Complaints Authority, most ranks in the GPF don’t even know the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) they work under.

This startling admission is contained in the Police Complaints Authority’s (PCA) 2019 report, compiled by PCA Chairman and retired Judge William Ramlal. In the report, Ramlal noted that he had previously recommended the fundamental rights of citizens be taught to the Police back in 2018.

This was because in 2018, it was observed that the Police continued to violate the fundamental rights of numerous citizens. According to Ramlal, he had personally lectured the Police at the Officers Training Centre about the importance of them knowing the SOPs and the rights of citizens so they could execute their duty properly.

But one year later, according to the former Judge, there has been no improvement in the GPF. According to him, 95 per cent of the hundreds of Police he interviewed in 2019 have a palpably poor understanding of what they can and cannot legally do.

“For 2019 I interviewed a few hundred members of the Force, covering all ranks, except the Commissioner of Police and all of them have shown a poor knowledge of the Force Standing Orders, the law and its applications in criminal matters, the fundamental rights of every citizen (and) the power of arrest with or without an arrest warrant.”

Additionally, Ramlal noted that most of the Police seem clueless about “what amounts to reasonable suspicion, what amounts to an arbitrary stop and search and what are the rules governing the principles of fairness. All of these and much more negatively impacts the work of the Police Complaints authority and the work of the Police themselves.”

Ramlal noted that the Police have an “arrest first, investigate later” mentality that has led to citizens being arrested without due process. There are even cases where persons are arrested without any reasonable suspicion being present.

“Based on my interview with the Police personnel, a substantial number of Traffic Police and others as well, misuse their powers of arrest to intimidate the citizen for favour or reward. Likewise, the Police in the Criminal Investigation Department misuse their powers of arrest in summary conviction matters.”

“Arrests are often carried out without any investigations being done or where there is no reasonable suspicion that someone committed any offence. The standard operational procedure is to arrest first or give the appearance of an investigation. This is resulting in too many complaints which were avoidable. I recommend that administrative systems and training be put into place to detect and prevent such abuses,” Ramlal said.

The retired Judge’s other recommendations include serious training being given to all Traffic Police regarding the law concerning Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Recalling the case of taxi driver Lallbachan Bachan, who died in Police custody at the Suddie Police Station in 2019, Ramlal said that Police were clueless about the section of the law relative for DUIs or even the particulars of the charge against Bachan.

“The computer print-out established conclusively that Mr Bachan never committed any offense as charged since his alcohol concentration was well below the prescribed limit. I recommend that serious training be given to all Traffic Police on this and other issues.”

“It is patently clear that the Police generally do not know anything or anything of significance, about their powers of arrest with or without a warrant. This has resulted in a large number of complainants being unlawfully arrested.”

When it comes to this, Ramlal urged that serious training be given to all members of the Police Force on the law and application of that law to situations when arrests take place. He also recommended that the Police be trained about the fundamental rights of each citizen, so that resulting arrests will be lawful. (First published in the Guyana Times)