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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bahamas: Policing before Farm Road

BEFORE the Farm Road Project was started in June 2002 -- which later evolved into Urban Renewal -- active community policing was making itself felt. So much so that the Eastern Division Pacesetters, launched from the Elizabeth Estates Police Station, had already won the first international police award for the Bahamas.

The presentation --in which the Bahamas placed second in the competition -- was made by the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police in 2001.

The Tribune was also presented with a plaque as the first partner to join the Pacesetters and introduce them to the public. Other newspapers and many other partners followed.

And so we can write with first hand knowledge about the Pacesetters and their programme to promote "The Police are my friends!" theme and take active door-to-door policing to a community. It was an initiative of which the whole community was aware and from which it saw positive results.

"The Police are my friends!" initiative was first introduced by ASP Shannondor Evans in 1998 in Freeport where he was Officer in Charge of the Eastern Division of the Grand Bahama District.

He was later transferred to Nassau and posted at the Eastern Division-- Elizabeth Estates Police Station. It was here that the Eastern Division Pacesetters was born. The object was to promote through many initiatives the idea that the police were the friends of the community. It was an effort to build a partnership between the police and the community.

Mr Evans had the ingredients of a successful programme, but he had to find a vehicle from which to launch it. One day he arrived at The Tribune and met with Godfrey Arthur, our advertising manager. Mr Evans, is an officer one has to take seriously. So fired with enthusiasm was he that he immediately caught Mr Arthur's attention. The idea was then brought to us and in no time The Tribune was on board with a weekly programme that lasted over a year. At first it started small with weekly announcements of meetings. Then it branched out into space given to introduce, with photographs, the various police officers in the programme and different members of the community who agreed that the police were indeed their friends. It caught the public's attention.

The object was to train the community to become aware of and accept the fact that 4,000 police officers, members of the Reserves and civilians could not police 300,000 people adequately, unless the people wanted to be policed and were an integral part of the project.

After spending four months training his officers, ASP Evans and his men took to the streets. They visited every home and business in the Eastern Division -- a total of 8,512 homes.

As a result of increased housebreaking complaints occurring in the eastern area, ASP Evans launched an initiative to ensure the presence of more police officers on the streets, through track roads and in the bushes. He planned to conduct the exercise one day a week for five weeks. Between 30 to 40 officers were deployed each week and their orders were to take an "aggressive approach toward preventing crimes."

His appeal for financial support was copied to leading residents in the eastern division. One of the names on the list was that of Dr Bernard Nottage -- and so no one could say this programme was politically motivated because those of all political persuasions cooperated.

ASP Evans had committed himself to providing lunch for the officers to prevent them leaving the area. He was, therefore, appealing to leading citizens in his division for "lunch" money. In his letter of appeal he announced that the late Roger Carron, The Tribune's director, had already provided lunch for the first day out. Others followed.

Mr Francis Cancino of the Amoury company recalls one weekend sitting with his family on his porch when up rolled Mr Evans and his team on bicycles. Mr Evans introduced himself and explained the team's mission. "He impressed me quite a bit," Mr Cancino will tell you today. "He gave out pamphlets with very good tips for the homeowner," Mr Cancino said. These were brochures with crime tips and a questionnaire. As a result Mr Cancino was also a supporter and helped with donations, among them computers. Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette and his wife, Robin, were also enthusiastic backers, giving of their time and finances. Mrs Symonette worked closely with the children, and provided gifts at Christmas.

Said Godfrey Arthur, who lives in the Eastern Division: "You could see the morale of the Elizabeth Estates station improve. After Mr Evans' transfer to the Police College we have seen an increase in petty theft and home invasions in our area. When he was in charge there was a policeman in your area every hour on the hour. He attended all the town meetings and was present for all the Crime Watch committee meetings. His team was responsible for the decrease in petty crime -- the man was on the job day and night. He made certain that his division was patrolled."

Today, said Mr Arthur, "we no longer even see the 'Police are our friends!' signs in our district."

However, this is the type of programme that each division needs if a dent is to be made in crime.

November 24, 2009