The Royal Bahamas Police Force: Nassau’s finest nation builder and protector of this great nation and its inhabitants.
In 1951, an English commissioner, who had the most trained British police army officers in command of its divisions and units, as well as 200 Bahamian officers who maintained them, kept order in these Islands. Conditions of service were not on par with other public service departments and resources were below par. It was the most disciplined, efficient and effective department in the public service.
In or about 1951, Major Edward Sears emerged to be the first Bahamian police chief. His deputy was Major Edward Spencer Harty, a tall, handsome former Olympian. Sears, through his friendly but disciplined approach, maintained the status quo.
In the early fifties, Lt. Colchester Wemyss was appointed our new commissioner of police. The nation was growing rapidly and growth in the public service was immediately needed. Wemyss, known to us as the “Lion”, began a massive improvement program, that included: women, police dogs, improved Police College, improvement in working conditions and wages, sports and social activities, inclusive of the general public, and most importantly overseas training.
He recruited several senior police officers from Great Britain to his executive team. Our force in a short period had emerged to being among the best in this region. The force and its police band traveled widely in the USA and Canada on promotion tours, which were arranged by Sir Stafford Sands. Police officers in uniform were used as models for billboards overseas advertising the country.
The trend of appointing British commissioners and senior officers to command the force continued until independence in 1973. Prior to independence, a number of local personnel were promoted to the senior ranks after undergoing UK training. Names of a few were, Wenzel Grainger, Agustus Roberts, Bernard Nottage and Sir Albert Miller.
After independence just a few of the British officers were retained and several of the senior personnel were promoted to the gazetted ranks. The force at this time had changed immensely from the two divisions in the 50s to multiple divisions and units in the 70s. Salathiel Thompson was appointed commissioner of police. He was the first Bahamian to come through the ranks to be commissioner. He was an outstanding police officer, the best court prosecutor we ever had, and for me an excellent teacher. He was a strong supporter of Sir Lynden Pindling.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force over the decades has been able to provide commissioners from within its ranks. Those of us who emerged from the British training here and overseas committed ourselves to the fact that no longer our police service will have to go overseas for its leader. On-the-job training and a handing over process prevails.
The Criminal Investigation Department was always the premier unit of the force. All of our commissioners had been attached there at some point in time. The late Stanley Moir stands out as one of the unit’s best leaders. The banking public and even policemen even called us “Moirs’ Team”. Immediately upon his arrival, he had implemented intense training for detectives and a system of monitoring investigations from the crime to the arrest and even the trial. He took a bunch of young men and made us efficient and effective investigators.
In a short time, due to transfers and resignations of senior personnel, I was privileged to become his deputy in the CID. I was his favorite student, thus I benefited from his teachings, his experience and exemplary manner. Most of Stan Moirs’ team members made it to the upper ranks of the force. They consisted of Courtney Strachan, Wilton Strachan, Basil Dean, Ormond Briggs, Douglas Hanna, Kemeul Hepburn, and BK Bonamy. They all reached the rank of assistant commissioner of police, with Bonamy becoming the force’s commissioner of police.
The CID under Moir was a breeding ground for outstanding police officers, among whom included; Chief Superintendent Anthony Fields and Superintendents Garth Johnson, Louis Hemmings, Milan Gittens, Allerdyce Strachan and of course, ASP Dorothy Davis, currently a training officer at the Police College.
Moir ensured that fingerprint experts and our photographers received the overseas training to qualify, and we had found some there, namely: Sergeants Clarke, Coleby, Francis and Newton, led by Superintendent Chase, whom the FBI considered to be among the best in the Caribbean.
The force in its nation-building role provided the country with parliamentarians: Spurgeon Bethel, MP, Errington Watkins, CM, Keith Bell, CM, would have been a good commissioner, Marvin Dames, Frankie Campbell; in the public service, Magistrate McKenzie, we look forward to him becoming a judge of the Supreme Court in the future; Director Clarence Russell of Bahamas Immigration, who was previously a passport officer, where he excelled; Director Bradley Sands of the Road Traffic Department, who already has proven to be an excellent choice; Consular Corp., Patrick Hanlan of Jamaica, Carlton Jones (ret.) of Barbados; public sector, Henry Wemyss, the only policeman from the region to pass with first-class honors in the UK Police Training College. He has provided the country with Wemco Security & Collections Ltd, providing security and investigational services.
The resignations of the deputy commissioner and eight assistant commissioners will be a loss as it relates to efficiency and experience. It is indeed sad, but the problem emanates from the excessive promotions to the higher ranks just prior to the general election when there was a complete disregard for the force’s establishment and strength over the decades in the affected ranks – five ACPs.
The force will survive the loss as we always had on-the-job training, which includes the officer in charge ensuring that his deputy in command is well trained and could fill the vacancy at any time. This policy was left with us by the UK officers and continued throughout the decades all through the ranks. There was never any problem finding replacements.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force continues to be Nassau’s finest.
We served with honor. We remember with pride.
– Paul Thompson, ACP (ret.)