What are the rules for ‘stop and search’ by the police?
Dear Editor, The report in Kaieteur News of 23-11-18, titled “More stop-andsearch, police patrols for Region Two”, caught my attention for two reasons. For one, the fact that the commander of the GPF ‘G’ Division made a presentation on his Christmas policing plan to regional civil society stakeholders struck me as a welcome act in police/public relations. Should such presentations be a standard procedure for all police divisions countrywide, then full praise is due to the force.
But, secondly, I took note of the intention of the police to increase “stop and search” operations to combat the expected upsurge of crime over Christmas. Here is my concern. What are the rules of engagement in Guyana for police “stop and search”?
Do the Guyana police need to first have, as in America, “reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime?” If so, are the ranks of the police force aware of the legal contours of such suspicion?
Even beyond the critical issue of reasonable suspicion, we additionally have to understand what is the scope of police power when they actually “stop and search” someone. In American law (at least, in theory), when a police rank has reasonable suspicion to stop someone, it is only to question (not search) him or her as a first step. As a second step, however, US police are empowered to frisk that person only to the extent necessary to ensure the officers’ own safety or that of nearby others.
Of course, there has been much abuse of these police powers in the US, with Blacks and Latinos bearing the brunt, despite clear rules on what is reasonable suspicion and when and how to conduct a frisk. The whole question of “stop and frisk” has come under relentless legal and political pressure that the New York police have reduced the practice by 94% over the last several years.
The questions then for our police force are (i) is reasonable suspicion required?, (ii) If so, how do the ranks operationalise it on the ground, and (iii) what is the scope of the search of persons, their belongings, and their vehicles? Yours faithfully, Sherwood Lowe What are the rules for ‘stop and search’ by the police?