The history of negro policemen, in The Bahamas, goes all the way back to the early 1800s.
Nassau Police Force circa 1885
Once the transatlantic trade, but not slavery itself, was banned, the British became the high seas enforcers, trying to put an end to the shipment of slaves from the African coast. For the tens of thousands of slaves rescued from Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch slave ships, by the British, they became liberated Africans, once they were landed on the nearest British West Indian port.
Some liberated Africans, who were able to work, were apprenticed to whites. Apprenticeships were a form of indentured servitude.
Liberated Africans in the Bahamas were legally, not designated as slaves. Their automatic liberated status caused a great measure of animosity between them, and those negroes whose legal status was slave.
The British used this distinction to good advantage, especially on the capital island, New Providence.
One advantage was to have one group maintain law and order over the other.
A handful of this group, of Liberated Africans, were apprenticed by the British as the first law enforcers, soon to be called police constables.
The bigger, the taller and the blacker they were, the better. Their very imposing boot black presence in the negro quarters of Grant’s Town, Fox Hill and Carmichael, arriving ahead of their white British commandants and commissioners, was very often enough to quell whatever disturbances may be going on.
As time moved on, foreign negroes, mostly from Barbados and Jamaica, were brought in as law enforcing policemen. There was a very important reasoning behind this. It was the same reason why liberated Africans were selected over free blacks as the first policemen. It was vitally important that there was a physical, as well as a psychological separation between those doing the policing, and those being policed. If there wasn’t, the Governor and the Assembly would have no assurance that disturbances would be quelled in the most expeditious way possible. If the police came from the ranks of those who were subject to law and order, it was felt that an orderly society, across the islands, could not readily be maintained.
1927 The World’s First Negro Motorcycle Policemen
As time moved on into the early 20th century, and as winter tourism began to be profitable for Nassau, problems arose when Mandingoesque, boot black, police officers came into contact with whites. For white American tourists, arriving in the Bahamas, in the early 20th century, to step off passenger ships and seaplanes, to be confronted by or spoken to by negroes, even in uniform, was against all known sensibilities of the time.
In 1927, Bahamas police commandant, Commandant Whebell, a man who served in the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police before coming to the islands, had to reassure the international press that despite the presence of negro police, the Bahamas did indeed have white police officers.
A brouhaha occurred when two negro police officers, both over six feet tall, were put on the first motorcycles used in policing in the Bahamas.
In fact, in 1927, the two Bahamian negro policemen who patrolled the streets of Nassau were considered “the only coloured motorcycle police in the world.”