Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jul 2006
Source: Royal Gazette, The (Bermuda)
Copyright: 2006 The Royal Gazette Ltd.
Author: Matthew Taylor, Chief Reporter
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Policing In Bermuda

"I have been shot at, I have been blown up, I have been  involved in 
an explosion where five officers were  killed."

So says Bryan Bell, Bermuda's new Assistant  Commissioner of Police, 
who cut his teeth in Northern  Ireland during 'The troubles' which 
claimed well over  3,000 lives.

But those fearing Bermuda has recruited a hard-line  British cop bent 
on brute force Policing need not fear.

Mr. Bell's approach is about working with the community  rather than 
being at its throat.

"It's about trying to keep divided communities from  harming each 
other and bringing communities closer  together."

He has been recruited for a three-year stint overseeing  crime, drugs 
and intelligence after a tough career  which saw him rise through the 
ranks after joining the  the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1975 as a 
raw but  committed 18-year-old.

His homeland was little more than a war zone where  Police were seen 
as legitimate assassination targets by  the Irish Republican Army in 
its bloody bid to force  Britain to give up its hold on Northern Ireland.

Despite the bloodshed he was drawn to Policing.

"If values have been put in you by your parents and  your community 
you sometimes have to step up to the  plate and do things.

"No one becomes a Police officer thinking you are going  to become rich."

But it led to richer life experiences said Mr. Bell.

"You are dealing with some of the most tragic  circumstances, whether 
it is someone down and out or  the person who has become bereaved.

"If you deal with it in a professional and sensitive  way it keeps 
you in touch with humanity.

"In that sense it is a fantastic career for people to  aspire to."

The most depressing thing has been seeing parents keen  to pass on 
their own bitterness and hatred to their  children.

"I recall a little child, maybe two-years-old on his  parent's 
shoulders and the parent made the child's hand  into an obscene 
gesture in front of my face."

It saddened him as he knew that child would be thrust  into the 
violence rather than protected from it and the  whole vicious cycle 
would continue into another  generation.

"If life means anything it's how well you bring your  children up and 
give them a chance to live a happy  life."

His own life was nearly cut short several times.

He recalls sitting in a Police training room when a  bomb went off.

"The terrorists had planted it in a suspended ceiling  -- I am still 
a little bit nervous of suspended  ceilings.

"In the middle of the class there was this  fantastically loud bang, 
flash and explosion.

"Colleagues were killed. The back of the building was  blown out 
completely and we were four floors up.

"How I stayed in the room I don't know. I think it was  partly bad 
construction. They used single blocks, the  walls gave in so that let 
a lot of the blast dissipate.

"We came around, alarms were ringing, we made our way  to the door."

Then came the grim realisation that other officers  weren't moving.

He suffered temporary hearing loss and minor scars on  his fingers 
from falling debris but counts himself  lucky to live to tell the 
tale although he said he has  been involved in a number of explosions 
on duty and  off.

"They were all colleagues I worked with," said Mr.  Bell. "You then 
attend a series of Police funerals."

It was something he had to became used to.

"At some stages we had officers dying at such a rate we  had to 
schedule funerals so officers and the Police  band could attend."

But he never wanted to quit and found himself running  large public 
disorder and counter terrorism operations,  sometimes involving more 
than 500 officers deployed on  a single incident.

"Bad times reinforce your resolve that you have to do  something with it.

"Using the problems we face here -- that's the time you  need to dig deeper.

"There's no point in walking away from it. It won't go  away, it will 
only get worse."

He said drug activity was a major factor behind violent  crime here.

"Serious criminals and drug barons fuel the street  level use of 
drugs and a lot of the anti-social  behaviour."

Well aware that efforts have been made to combat the  narcotics 
menace he said it was now a case of  co-ordinating many necessary 
methods -- everything from  street lighting and working in schools to 

It was an approach he tried in the county of Cleveland,  in the north 
east of England, where he was responsible  for operational policing 
covering a population of  550,000 people after becoming Assistant 
Chief Constable  following his 23-year stint in Northern Ireland.

The largely urban area included many deprived, drug  ridden pockets 
where heroin addiction fuelled a  murderous crime wave.

Tackling Cleveland's heroin problem involved everything  from helping 
get teen prostitutes off the street and  encouraging doctors not to 
turn away addicts, to  international anti-drug operations. "I won't 
say it  went away but it was not as bad as it could have been  had we 
not taken steps."

He acted as deputy chief constable working with a $115  million 
budget and 2,000 staff before taking on the  newly-created role of 
co-ordinating the Special  Branches from the UK's 55 separate Police 
forces after  9/11.

The concept of melding different branches of Policing  is something 
that has applications here, said Mr. Bell  who had achieved the rank 
of Deputy chief constable  before he left Britain.

Already all too familiar with the dangers of guns he  said Police 
would be robust in their response.

But ultimately the criminals will be on the run when  the community 
has had enough and works to remove the  gang culture.

"That requires courage -- parents and family who know  what's going 
on -- to not turn a blind eye and think  it's going to go away.

"In Belfast one of the big things which turned the tide  was when 
mothers got together from different sides of  the community and 
decided that they had had enough.

"In some ways it's a little bit like that here."

Mr. Bell, 49, said too many people withheld information  because they 
assumed it was obvious and Police would  already know.

"Sometimes we might not know. It's better when people  aren't complacent."

But a tiny bit of information, which might seem  irrelevant to most, 
can crack a case said Mr. Bell.

"I remember a very junior officer who stopped a young  chap going 
along the road and diligently made a note of  his clothing.

"Two days later a murder was committed and a fragment  of clothing 
was left behind that fully fitted that  description.

"At the time it didn't seem that important but it  turned out to be 
extremely important."

He said Police already had a Community Beat Office  working on 
building public support.

"I suspect part of the reason why I have been brought  here is to 
make sure we join up from the grass roots  officers in the street 
right through to our serious  crime and narcotic departments so we 
are fully joined  up. "Every officer and indeed upstanding member 
of  community needs to take a responsibility in tacking  these issues."

He said Bermuda still had a strong sense of community,  already lost 
in many other places in the world, which  could be levered.

"It's something that Bermudians need to value and not  take for granted."

Asked if people might question why an outsider was  necessary he said 
part of his goal was to make sure his  replacement was a local and he 
has set a goal of  improving intelligence gathering and passing on 
his experience of running a large organisation. He came to  know 
about Bermuda after meeting current commissioner  George Jackson and 
his predecessor Jonathan Smith at a  senior command course in England 
years ago.

And he was inspired to apply for his current post after  being 
impressed with their professional resolve and  enthusiasm.

"They beguiled me with stories of how beautiful Bermuda was.

"They also struck me as two Police officers of high  moral integrity, 
commitment and belief in what they  were doing and belief in Bermuda.

"That struck me as something I would be happy to work with.

"I think Bermuda has a high reputation, quite rightly,  as one of 
those special places in the planet.

"I was honoured and proud to have been chosen to come here.

"I have always been someone who wants to share and  learn experience 
around the world."

That desire took him to South Africa as part of an  international 
monitoring team which helped transform  its Police force from the 
apartheid era into a  community focused organisation.

He had regularly gone back.

Life in Bermuda is a huge contrast to cold, rainy  Belfast and 
Cleveland, admits Mr. Bell. But at its core  the job has some 
fundamentals which never go away.

"The scale might be different, the scale of violence  might be 
different but fundamentally Policing comes  down to the community."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman