Former Police Commissioner, Winston Felix and Private Sector Commission (PSC) executive member, Gerry Gouveia on Wednesday welcomed moves to establish a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team but cautioned that it should be governed by clear rules.
Felix was reacting to government’s announcement that Cabinet has approved the establishment of the team and has enlisted the services of a United States-based company to craft training.
He stressed that such an elite force should be under the command of the Police Commissioner rather than political direction and influence as has had been allegedly the case with the now dismantled Target Special Squad (TSS).
“You don’t need to wait until you’re in a situation to get a SWAT team so I would not be averse to the government setting up a SWAT team. What I have a problem with is the command and control of the SWAT team and wish that it doesn’t become like the Target Special Squad,” Felix told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).
Felix, now a legislator for the opposition parliamentary coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), also warned against the team being deployed on regular patrols to drive fear in Guyanese. “If you want to make them a big patrol team, it will be an under-utilization of the skills which these people would be developing because they are not a glorified patrol group,” he said.
The former Top Cop reiterated that a SWAT team is engaged in constant training until summoned to deal with “major situations” involving armed groups and hostage situations.
Head of the PSC’s Security and Governance Committee, Gerry Gouveia said a SWAT team was long overdue since the ‘Black Clothes’ squad was scrapped. Like Felix, he called for proper oversight and control of the unit to regulate their behaviour and operations and avoid human rights violations and rogue operations. “That kind of behaviour by a few rogue policemen actually damaged the entire image of the Guyana Police Force and could damage the image of an important component of the police force like a SWAT team or a rapid response team,” he said.
Deputy Police Commissioner, Seelall Persaud on Wednesday said members of the regular police force would be drawn to be part of the close-combat team. “For a SWAT team we have to get persons who area already trained in basic law enforcement, upgrade their rules of engagement and have the ability to handle different types of firearms,” said Persaud.
He said the SWAT team would “serve as a good deterrent” and respond to intelligence gathered about major incidents and heavily armed gangs.
A SWAT team was expected to be part of the now collapsed British-funded Security Sector Reform Programme. The programme was dumped over concerns by the United Kingdom that it needed to fully account for British taxpayers’ money and the Guyana government’s insistence that it needed to preserve the country’s sovereignty.
The Home Affairs Ministry on Wednesday said that with a SWAT Unit, the Guyana Police Force would be better placed to make specialized interventions, thereby, ensuring law and order is maintained, and prospective threats are neutralized.
Now that Cabinet has approved the SWAT team, the Home Affairs Ministry said it has hired the Washington-based consultancy firm, The Emergence Group (TEG) “to obtain the requisite assistance in this initiative.”
TEG is first expected to conduct an ‘Organizational Needs Assessment’ and craft training programmes. “Curriculum development and training, including mentoring, will also be undertaken by the consultancy firm.”
The establishment of a SWAT team has received the full support of the leadership of the Guyana Police Force, said the Home Affairs Ministry.