Opinion

Police contributions to our community

  • An experiment in integration: a letter from the Bermuda Police Force Commissioner George Robins to the Football Combination (league) pushed it to accept an integrated team in the early 1960s. Shown from left to right, standing are Arthur Bean, Ray Banks, Clyde “Tango” Burgess, Ray “Sleepy” DeSilva, Mick Hill and in the front row are Mike Rickards, Del Trott, Clive Donald, Jack Crane and Alan Wyatt
  • Dave Garland, a Bermuda Police Force officer in the 1960s and 1970s

I came to Bermuda in 1961 to join the Bermuda Police Force. The first thing that struck me was the amount of sport within the force.

Rugby, football, cricket, squash, tennis, athletics, boxing, sailing, you name it, they were into it — and because of it we had a formidable presence on the local sporting scene.

For me it is a sad reflection of the seeming lack of involvement in sport by the present-day Bermuda Police Service.

So how did the policemen of those days, through to the 1990s affect the community and sport in general?

The first one for me was football.

On arrival here, I was shocked that there were two leagues, especially as the Police team was an integrated one. In fact, after a year or so, and watching PHC play a couple of times, I got to know a lot of their players, especially their captain, Cal “Bummy” Symonds.

I made a quiet move to try and join them; they were the “team on the Rock”.

I was snubbed. Shortly after this, a bunch of us were in the Police Recreation Club after training and the subject came up: Why couldn’t all police officers be eligible to play for us?

We had some outstanding locals — Arthur Bean, Aaron Scott, Clyde “Tango” Burgess and others.

What resulted next was that the football section approached the Bermuda Football Combination and we had a letter sent to the league by commissioner George Robins to the effect that if all police officers were not eligible to play for the Police, we would withdraw.

That got swift action and all police officers could play. It quickly gained momentum and within a year, the two leagues came together to form the BFC.

The Police were very active in the integration of football in Bermuda.

Although I wasn’t involved in cricket, it was very similar, with two leagues — one for white teams and the other for usually all “coloured” or black teams. Our team was integrated and when the Police joined the Somers Isles Cricket League, I believe the Police team were not only the first fully integrated team, they were also one of the best.

Next was not just athletes but also road racing. We had the May 24 half-marathon from St George’s, mainly black runners with the odd exceptions. One of the first to my knowledge was Police Constable Alan Wilkinson, who had been a Fell runner in Britain.

After a challenge and a bet, two police officers ran a race from the Police club to Flatts and back to Prospect, via Middle Road and North Shore Road. It ended in a sporty draw.

The next year, 1968, more than 30 police officers ran in the race, which was won for the next ten years by Jeff Payne. This got to the notice of a few local guys, who asked if they could also run in it.

They were invited and shortly afterwards, a couple of local running clubs were formed. And to top it off, the police race to Flatts and back was adopted as the 10K we still run.

What followed was an explosion in running in Bermuda, which culminated in hundreds running the May 24 half-marathon and the Front Street Mile at Christmas.

The police played a significant role in promoting road running in Bermuda. Way before my arrival in Bermuda, boxing had been a popular sport here, and one of our police officers, Arthur Childs, had drawn huge crowds to boxing tournaments at No 1 Shed involving overseas boxers.

Another police officer, Custerfield “Custy” Crockwell, was also an excellent boxer, but when I first came here, boxing seemed to be in a slump.

However, on the motivation of a constable, Pat McBride, the Police held its first Night of Boxing at the Police club. It became the hottest invitation to get.

Within a few years, our boxing events became so popular that they had to be moved to the Southampton Princess Hotel and then to BAA, with local guys being invited to fight on the programme.

Boxing rapidly expanded and police officers such as Vic Richmond and Gerry Lyons became very involved in the revival of boxing on the island.

When the Police took over the Army headquarters at Prospect, they opened the old army squash court at Prospect, built in about 1937, and it became a popular activity for police officers, along with a group of Bermudians who had been introduced to squash while abroad.

The Prospect court soon became overused by the rapid expansion of the sport, which resulted in a group getting new courts built in Devonshire. Squash is now very popular and the standard is always improving.

I believe the Police played an important role in the development of squash, with one of Bermuda’s first champions being a policeman, Clive Donald, who was also an outstanding cricketer and footballer.

Tennis: the police built their own courts at Prospect and played in a local tennis league.

Sailing: the police started their own sailing club at Admiralty House and within a short time, police officers were sailing in different classes out of Bermuda Sailboat Club and other classes out of Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

The Police Drama Group: Dusty Hind and Ron Shelley were the motivators in the mid-1960s, when the group put on a series of successful plays at City Hall.

The resurgence spilt over to Daylesford and helped to resurrect drama and later musicals. Thank you, Dusty and Ron.

In the days before the present organisation of public schools, most schools were run by a board of governors, which I believe was a much better system than today.

Localised police officers often volunteered their off-duty time to schools to help to run events.

Police officers were also involved in many other youth activities such as the Outward Bound programme and the very popular Police Pedal Cycle Gymkhana started by constables Ray Sousa, Roger Sherratt and Gary Perinchief (Takbir Sharrieff). Both of these have continued to this day.

I believe that our community should show more recognition of the unselfish efforts that have been and are still are being given by the Bermuda Police Service for the betterment of Bermuda. Some recent events of civil unrest once again brought the police into the public eye, and one would have thought reading The Royal Gazette that it was all the fault of the police.

An old copper once told me: “Just remember, we will always be the jam in between two slices of bread when there are riots and civil unrest. We will always be blamed.”

So I believe that Bermuda should be very proud of the boys in blue and we — the citizens, the Members of Parliament, the trade Unions, the churches, from the Governor on down — should show support for them. In the 16 years that I served in the Bermuda Police, I felt that we all worked, played and served this country to the best of our ability and for the benefit of the society.

The harmony between local police officers and overseas officers from Britain and the West Indies was excellent, and greatly contributed to bringing an end to segregation in football, cricket and other sports — something for which the police service should be proud.

It’s a shame our political leaders didn’t follow a similar programme to rid us of the “us and them” attitude in today’s politics.

Everyone in Bermuda should remember the famous phrase used by John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

And, last but not least, I would like to see a greater presence of police officers on the ground, on the roads in Bermuda, and in the community.

For the police to be successful, they must have the backing and support of the people and whichever government that is in power.

Dave Garland is a former police officer who has taken a walk through the “good ol’ days” during Police Week