Guyana Chronicle:– AMENDMENTS to the Police Act have now paved the way for members of the Guyana Police Force to use less lethal weapons such as pepper spray, tasers and stun guns when responding to certain cases where civilians physically and forcibly resist arrest.
The amendments, piloted on Monday by Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn, received support from members of the opposition, including former Public Security minister Khemraj Ramjattan.
The amended law also allows for ranks to be armed with other weapons such as nightsticks, batons, clubs and tear gas, as well as rubber-coated bullets and water cannons. These were all approved as part of ensuring a more staged response to crime, where lethal weapons would only be used in extreme life-threatening situations.
“We have seen these instances on Facebook and other places, where persons have taken the resort of scuffling and even fighting with the police, resisting arrest,” Minister Benn highlighted during his presentation to the National Assembly.
He said that the amended law will provide police officers with less lethal means of restraining civilians displaying such levels of aggression.
“We want to avoid the resort of having to go to the use of firearms,” Benn said, reminding that such provisions for use of less lethal weapons are not unique to Guyana. “These insertions were long in coming,” the minister noted.
Added to that, the 2021 Bill sought to delete an earlier amendment which empowered the Guyana Police Force to extract the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) information of a person kept in lawful police custody, as yet another means of identification.
This was in addition to the police having approval to record a person’s measurements, their photograph and fingerprints as legitimate forms of identification.
Minister Benn said that even though the law was previously amended, it has now been found to be unnecessary. He said that the decision was taken after some “due consideration” and “perhaps some criticisms too.”
In rising to make her contributions to the amendment bill, Opposition Member of Parliament Dawn Hastings-Williams said that she and her colleagues on the opposing side of the House are in full support of the long-awaited amendments to the Police Act.
The former Minister of State also agreed with Minister Benn that police officers need to be properly equipped to execute their functions. “We need our police officers to do their jobs in a peaceful manner, and that whatever is done to do arresting will be done with less harm, and to avoid the use of firearms,” Hastings-Williams said, as she acknowledged the fact that police officers are sometimes victims of harassment and abuse by civilians resisting arrest.
Similar support for the amendments were offered by former Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, and government Member of Parliament Sanjeev Datadin, both attorneys-at-law.
Nonetheless, now that the Bill to amend the Police Act has been passed in the National Assembly, it must now be assented to by President Dr. Irfaan Ali, so as to be effectively brought into the law.