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Female police officers honoured

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The struggle for equality endured by Bermuda's pioneering female police officers was acknowledged in a ceremony.

The tribute on Saturday was organised by retired officer Tracey Armstrong to “recognise all the police women who have broken the glass ceiling in the Bermuda Police Service”.

“Our accomplishments have gone unnoticed,” Ms Armstrong told The Royal Gazette. “I will not say it is intentional, but just an oversight.”

She said part of her inspiration for the tribute came from the eulogies delivered at the funeral of a former colleague.

Ms Armstrong said: “Listening to the glowing comments about him, I wondered if they ever told him these things while he was living.”

She looked at female colleagues who made “inroads in the service”, as well as the young female officers who now make up close to half the force.

Ms Armstrong, who joined the force in 1974, recalled thinking: “It would be nice if they knew how they got where they are today.”

Plaques were made for 21 retired female officers, bearing their names and “whatever ceilings they broke”, Ms Armstrong said. Among them were Jean Vickers, who turns 85 tomorrow, Bermuda's first policewoman who joined the force in 1962 and retired in 1987.

The former inspector said of her career in the force: “I would not have wanted any other job.”

Ms Vickers was recruited by George Robins, the Commissioner, who had advertised seeking female officers, and selected her out of the 13 candidates.

“That man had it together,” she remembered. “I was young, 27, and very sheltered; I don't know what he saw, but he told me I was the type of person they needed. Nobody ill-treated me or was mean to me. It was a beautiful experience.”

Roseanda Young, who became the island's first and only female deputy commissioner, said it was “difficult for the men to accept us doing all the same things they did” when she joined in 1978.

Ms Young added: “We couldn't just be police women — we had to be exceptional.”

She said she signed up on a dare after her brother-in-law spotted an advertisement.

“I said they'd never take me,” she said. “They were taking very few women.”

Her career spanned almost 30 years: she retired in 2007.

Ms Young, 64, said: “I feel very humbled to be recognised. We were in a predominantly male organisation. Whatever women did was not significant to them. But it obviously was for the evolution of the service.”

Women were excluded from departments such as the marine police and the motorcycle department, but more and more joined the force.

Gertrude Barker, a former superintendent, joined in 1966, becoming one of eight women officers. Now 74, she retired in 2003. Initially women were a separate department, under the leadership of a British inspector, Isabelle Lee.

Ms Barker said: “Over time it evolved, and we became a fully fledged part of the service. It was the usual male-dominated society. It could be challenging patrolling with males, but it was certainly not challenging when it came to my ability to do the job.”

She added: “I'd like to think I was a role model because of my ability to move upward. Police women should get the recognition they deserve. Some of the things we did in the service were momentous. I broke a lot of ceilings.”

Ms Armstrong, organiser of the tribute, told the Gazette that she joined “to make a difference in the community and for the island by trying to help people”.

She said: “Back in the day, if you were a single female with a child, they would not take you on the force; you would not even be entertained.

“If you were on the force and became pregnant, that was it for your career.”

The uniform of a black skirt, white blouse and “black shoes with a small heel” came with drawbacks.

Police women were tasked with tracking down young people who had run away from home. “There were times we had to run after them. It wasn't easy running in a skirt and those shoes.”

A woman transferred to the marine section complained that she could not ride a boat wearing a skirt, and gradually trousers were adopted.

“I served 27 years in just about every department — central, eastern, western, narcotics, CID and traffic.

“I was transferred to traffic, which was male-dominated, with another female, Coralie Trott. There were no women. We were stepping into uncharted territory. The men did not help us in any way.

“We were just left driving around, doing nothing. I got tired of it and went to Chief Inspector Derek Taylor, who was in charge, and told him, we make the same money as the men, and we want to feel productive.”

Ms Armstrong said: “From that day, we were regular police officers like anybody, handling accidents, domestic complaints, whatever we had to do.”

She added: “There was no problem at all from the public. It was a new thing to see two women driving around. They were fine; they didn't give us any hassle.”

The recognition ceremony was held at the Bella Vista Bar and Grill in Southampton.

Of the retired officers honoured, Ms Armstrong said: “These women broke glass ceilings.

“The girls today need to know whose shoulders they are standing upon, and what we had to go through.”

Thank you for your service: retired police officer Tracey Armstrong organised a special tribute to the women who “broke the glass ceiling” in the Bermuda Police Service, at the Bella Vista Restaurant and Bar in Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Tribute to female officers (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Tribute to female officers (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 03, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated June 03, 2019 at 11:59 am)

Female police officers honoured

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