RANKS of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) have started wearing cameras affixed to their uniforms as part of plans to increase accountability and improve public trust.
The use of cameras is among several measures the GPF has adopted to capture evidence at crime scenes as part of a wider plan to increase its professionalism. The initiative was first introduced in 2015 and has been expanded to all 12 police divisions.
Head of GPF’s Information Technology Department, Superintendent Jermaine Johnson, said body cameras would increase the safety of both police and civilians. Information from the cameras would also be used for training. Superintendent Johnson said there is a standard operating procedure for the use of the body cameras. Technical staff are stationed in all divisional regions to ensure the cameras are operational before a rank is issued with a body camera. This means that the date and time on the camera must be correct, and the storage clear and fully functional.
The Superintendent said ranks are also required to keep the cameras turned on from the time they are issued. If an incident occurs during the rank’s time on duty, the footage will be reviewed for evidential value. The footage will also be archived for a period in the event a report is made against the officer.
Recently, there have been several incidents between police and civilians, which have revealed civilians either attacking or verbally abusing officers. Video footage captured during these officer-community interactions will provide better documentation of the nature of events and support accounts articulated by both officers and civilians.
“After every operation, we will use the footage to review for quality assurance, meaning that if the rank performed the duty in a professional way, if the civilians who we have to serve abuse the police; also, we use it for training to look to see what we do and how we can improve on it.
“If within the view, something happened and he takes off his body cam, there is reason to believe he is guilty of something. So, you would want your body camera to be on at all times when you are executing your duty because the only thing the body camera can do, is to show your superior how well you have been performing your duties,” Superintendent Johnson said.
The Superintendent said cameras could ensure quality of evidence captured from incidents, and speed up justice for victims.
“For the civilians, when you see the police with a body cam on, you can speak straight into that body cam and you will get transparency in what you may have indicated to the police, a robbery, someone may have gone into your house…
“The back and forth in who said what, the body cam would be able to determine and give a true picture of what happened at that time,” he explained.
Emphasising the effectiveness of the body cameras, Superintendent Johnson detailed an incident where, if it were not for the camera, he could have been found afoul of the law.
“I personally had a case where my vehicle registered number plate was being used by a next vehicle and because of a body cam, the evidence was picked up and the perpetrator was prosecuted,” he said. The officer said the incident was coincidental, but it led to the perpetrator paying a hefty fine.
He noted, however, that the body cameras are offline, meaning the video footage cannot be accessed until it is uploaded manually. To ensure there is optimal use of the devices, the GPF will soon be receiving advanced body cameras which will be online and linked to the command centre. A total of 500 body cameras have already been catered for in Budget 2021.
Since taking office, President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali and Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn have been calling for the restructuring of the GPF.
President Ali at the Annual Commissioner’s Breakfast in December 2020 said enhanced professionalism within the GPF will improve the way citizens view the police. “For you who serve in the Police Force, professionalism is the embodiment of everything you do. And I’m not asking for anything beyond that, beyond that professionalism that would see a remarkable improvement in the way the population views you, views your uniform, and the government.”
Additionally, in his address at the GPF’s Annual Conference in March, the President said change is a systematic process and that it was important for the lawmen to understand their current position, against where they ought to be. He said there is need to identify the gaps in the Force, both external and internal.
“In doing this, we then have to do a realistic assessment of our capability, our weaknesses, our strength, the opportunities that are there, the direction in which the country is going, and the Force is going, and the requirement and the future demands of the Force.”
Some $15.3 billion was earmarked in the 2021 budget for the Force to enhance its capacity. (DPI)