Women in policing

September’s general election, Parliament’s new session and the formation of a new Cabinet proved to be proud moments for Bahamian women, who ascended in record numbers not only to the legislature and the executive, but who for the first time, simultaneously ascended to the offices of House Speaker and Senate president.

For the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), currently under the historic command of the force’s first female acting Commissioner of Police Loretta Mackey, over a half-century of accomplishments of women in policing are being celebrated with pride this week.

It was 57 years ago when Anita Bethel-Williams became the first female enlisted in the RBPF, joined in squad by Theresa Baker, Norma Clarke, Alsaida McFall, Hildred McClain and Esther Stubbs – referred to by the force as the “elite six”.

The RBPF notes that, “Prior to the admission of females as police officers, the organization relied on the services of a female civilian. This woman was referred to as a matron. Her responsibility was to assist male officers whenever females or children were in police custody.”

In 1963, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MP Spurgeon Bethel – himself a former police officer – first brought forward the suggestion to Parliament that women be brought onto force, and according to Williams who currently serves as a reservist, she subsequently became the first female to enlist in 1964.

Over the past 57 years, women have risen to assume leadership posts throughout the force including promotion to the rank of deputy commissioner of police, held by both Mackey and her immediate predecessor, Ismella Davis-Delancey.

During yesterday’s episode of the force’s weekly program Cop Talk, Williams described the early atmosphere on the force for women as “terrible”, stating, “men did not want us to become a part of the force because they thought it was their own private world”.

Adding that it took several years for those attitudes to begin to change, Williams recalled, “There are a few that welcomed us, and when they saw how well we worked, the naysayers began to appreciate us.”

Training was “tough” Williams pointed out, as the females were required to participate in all the aspects of training as were their male counterparts save for rifle training.

Female recruits now receive the same training as male recruits.

The decision to become a police officer remains one that is typically expected of males in society, but senior female officers on yesterday’s program pointed to the diverse and exciting career path that can await females who join the country’s premiere law enforcement institution.

Commandant of the Police Training College Chief Superintendent Dellareece Ferguson advised that of the 100 recruits now in training at the college, 28 are female.

The 37-year veteran of the force has overcome the loss of both kidneys to illness and a kidney transplant, to be heralded as one of the force’s legendary female officers.

Also praised as being legendary among female officers was Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Juanita Colebrooke, the force’s first female chief superintendent in 2004, and its first female ACP when she was promoted to the rank in 2007.

Colebrooke, who also continues to serve the force as a reservist, encouraged current and prospective female officers to recognize the value and depth of experience to be gleaned from being a police officer, including international training opportunities and the exposure they bring.

Emphasizing the importance of unifying female officers, Acting Commissioner Mackey highlighted her focus of empowering female officers to recognize their potential in the rigors of law enforcement and service to the public.

Mackey assured, “I have some brilliant, strong, talented women, and I am going to pull them together.”

The changing face of crime and criminality adds growing complexity to policing.

What the dedicated and accomplished women of the RBPF continue to demonstrate is that service in keeping The Bahamas safe and maintaining law and order rises or falls not on one’s gender, but on one’s competence and character.

We salute women in policing both past and present, and encourage all officers of the RBPF to remain committed to such service, guided by the force’s mission statement of courage, integrity and loyalty.

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