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Raffique Shah


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Security sector stinks

By Raffique Shah
November 01, 2009

Last Sunday's arms heist at the inappropriately-named "MI5" security company's premises was a disaster waiting to happen. The saving grace, if there was any, is that the bandits did not kill the lone female security guard and proceed on a gun-rampage through town. There are some very serious lessons to be learnt from this incident. But given our attitude towards matters that have implications for personal and national security, I don't hold much hope that we'll see the requisite changes.

The security sector thrives on the crime wave that we have endured for close to a decade. Robberies and burglaries have grown to epidemic proportions, with maybe 75 per cent or more of the population having been victims of such crimes. Businesses, from wayside vendors and one-door parlours to once-impregnable banks, have fallen victims to emboldened criminals. These statistics will not reach Commissioner Philbert James' desk, since most people who are victims of petty thefts-cell phones and wallets snatched at knife-point, a few items stolen from a burglarised house-do not report such incidents.

Instead, those who can afford it seek refuge behind sturdy, prison-like bars, electronic alarm and CCTV systems, or security guards. The latter are used mainly by medium-to-large businesses. The owners, frustrated by losses suffered in multiple robberies, turn to self-styled security companies that offer them "guards" at exorbitant hourly fees.

What the hapless businessmen or homeowners fail to understand is that they are better off securing their properties by arming themselves with cutlasses. But for a few rare exceptions, the security business in this country stinks. Some greedy persons or persons pool some money, register a "security" company, grab some poor unemployed persons and convert them into "guards" in minutes, and deploy them to clients willing to pay for their services.

Most times the persons or companies hiring these "guards" fail to realise these people have absolutely no training, no special skills, no idea what they are supposed to do in the event of an attack. Take the lone female who was at MI5's premises at the time of the robbery. Why did she open the door for a "policeman" on a Sunday afternoon? Surely, anyone with an iota of common sense would, at the very least, question a visit from the police at such an odd hour on an equally odd day.

But poor woman, left alone to mind a whole building and a storeroom full of arms and ammunition, and not knowing how to respond, did what she thought was right. For all we know, she may have been on duty for 12, 15, even 24 hours, such is the exploitation that is part of the security business. And whatever Labour Minister Dumas may have proclaimed otherwise, she and others like her would be lucky to earn overtime pay.

This charade that passes for security has gone beyond being ridiculous. Ask all security personnel in this country to run for, say, 12 minutes without stopping: you'd kill half of them and put another 25 per cent in hospital. Most are grossly unfit, and that includes the bosses! And those licensed to use firearms, in instances, have not fired a weapon for years. Even if they have, it would normally be at static targets 10 metres away. Bandits move, and it's always better to engage them at distances of 25 metres and more.

Another danger many of these companies pose to the country is, because of their lax approach to everything but money they can pocket, they hardly do background checks on people they hire. So criminals can easily infiltrate their ranks, exposing not only the companies' armouries to danger, but their clients' premises to criminal surveillance. How often have we read of robberies, kidnappings and murder committed by persons described as "security guards", and now even policemen and soldiers?

Look, we all agree there are too many guns in this country-mostly in the hands of criminals. And where legitimate holders of firearms licences are concerned, less than 10 per cent of them have the know-how to ward off attacks, even to secure their weapons. How well I remember criminologist Prof Ramesh Deosaran forgetting his loaded firearm in the toilet of a fast-foods outlet! Ordinary citizens, business owners in the main, feel they should all be given firearms users' licences (FUL). While I understand why they would want weapons, they do not understand that ownership of guns make them high-risk targets for criminals. Few such FUL holders would clinically eliminate criminals who attack them. Most would end up being robbed of their valuables, their weapons, and more than likely lose their lives as well.

Government and the Police Service need to rein in runaway crime. I know CoP James and some of his dedicated men try their best, riddled as the Service is with rogue cops. But for as long as crime remains rampant, we shall be saddled with the likes of "MI5" and "CIA-1" that are, as WO Lionel Bullen used to put it in the Regiment in days gone by: "They are of no use no bloody use to anyone!" In fact, they are a danger to the society and a godsend to the criminal elements.

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