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General Police Duties


The initial duties and responsibilities of early law enforcement officials in The Bahamas were extremely vast, a fact that is rather unusual by present day standards. This is true, given the fact that Constables then were required to carry out tasks ranging from fixing roads to catching stray hogs, goats and sheep. The new philosophy of community policing that many police agencies subscribe to today, has actually been in existence from the creation of the policing era.
In the 1840 Police Act, the Nassau Force was made responsible for the 24-hour policing of the Colony. This new Force was to be a day and night body instead of simply a night operation, as was the case with the former Night Guards. Members were charged with three pivotal duties that the government felt were fundamental to properly police the growing Colony. These duties included:

  1. Preservation of the peace
  2. Prevention of robberies and other felonies
  3. Detection and committal of offenders

In the first amendment to the 1840 Act, these duties were a bit more specific in outlining the offence of robbery, which was no doubt a primary concern at the time. Later, in the Police Act of 1860, the investigative function was worded more specifically. The Act stipulated that the duties of the police included discovering and detecting perpetrators of felonies and other criminal offences (23 Vic Ch 4). These general duties remained virtually unchanged until an Act entitled: To consolidate and amend the laws relating to the Stipendiary Police Force of the Colony was passed in May of 1864. This Act made the Force officially responsible for "apprehending the offenders" throughout the entire Colony (27 Vic Ch 20). It would appear as if the Assembly crafted the duties of the Force after they considered the duties that were already being performed.

The 1864 Act also stipulated that Constables in Nassau were to be responsible for courtroom security and other duties in the General Court of The Bahamas. The Bahamas' Constabulary Act of 189 1 expanded the Force's courtroom duties as it mandated that police officers attend all the sittings of all Courts of Justices throughout the Colony. This Act also made police officers responsible for the management, charge and control of fire engines and required them to perform all of the duties of firemen.

Even though there was always a sufficient number of jailors or gaolers (keepers of the jail) in Nassau, the Constables on Out Island Districts had to carry out their duties under an 1870 Act, as the Resident Justice or his assistant were either absent or simply required them to act in this capacity (33Vic Ch 3). Under this Act, the Sergeant of Police was made responsible for all nuisances. Interestingly, one of this officer's main responsibilities under this portfolio was to ensure that any decomposing animal found in any part of the town, suburbs or harbor of Nassau was removed or buried at the government's expense. Though viewed by some today as a rather unpleasant job, the cleanliness of the Colony remains an important government priority.

The Police Act of 1909 officially broadened the Force's duties by stating that, in addition to those previously outlined, they were required to perform "all other duties" by an Act imposed on all peace officers. The duties of all Constables including Local, District and Special Constables were outlined in the Constables Act of 1926 (1 6 & 17 Geo 5 Ch 32). Under this Act, their duties included:

  1. To preserve the public peace
  2. To prevent or suppress crime
  3. To protect property
  4. To proceed from any part of the Colony to any other part
    in charge of any person accused of a criminal offence
  5. To carry out the orders of any Court issued to him in
    the exercise by such Court of its jurisdiction

The Police Act of 1955 compacted the duties of the Force as a whole into three main functions:

  1. Preserving the peace
  2. Prevention and detection of crime
  3. The apprehension of offenders against the peace

Today, there are five general duties that the Force are mandated to carry out under the Police Act of 1965 and subsequent revised editions:

  1. Maintenance of law and order
  2. Preservation of the peace
  3. Prevention and detection of crime
  4. Apprehension of offenders
  5. Enforcement of all laws with which it is charged

Given the fact that police officers have historically been asked to perform a vast variety of tasks, it was understood that their authority had to be expanded. Hence, the powers of Constables have become more clearly defined over time. In 1838, there were several clearly defined powers and duties that Constables had prior to the formation of the Force. Constables had the authority to stop and detain an individual who possessed property that, in the officer's opinion, was suspicious or improperly obtained. This permitted arrests based on suspicion rather than probable cause (2Vic 1 22 C.2). The officer was then required to take such a person to the Watch-House and appear before the next sitting of a Magistrate to give an account of the officer's suspicion. In addition, the 1838 Act gave Constables the power to arrest any person for being drunk, disturbing the peace, or using foul language in o r near a public street (2Vic 1 [27] C.2).

On January 29, 1870, an Act was passed that gave police officers the same powers as tide waiters; the term used to refer to customs officers who board incoming ships at a harbor. Police officers were now given the added task of preventing the smuggling of unaccustomed goods into the Colony. The Constabulary Act of 189 1 broadened the duties of the Force. This Act mandated that tasks would include: attendance at all the sitting of the General Court and other Courts of Justice throughout the Colony; management, charge and control of the Fire Engines and their appliances; practicing and performing all the duties of firemen in the event of an outbreak or alarm of fires and acting as gaolers for Out Island DIstricts when required by the Resident or Assistant Resident Justice of the Peace.

By law, police officers in The Bahamas today enjoy the same powers and privileges as those in many other law enforcement entities, including immigration and customs departments. For example, under the Customs Management Act, members of the Force are invested with al the powers of a custom officer to prevent the smuggling of unaccustomed goods. As the role of the police continues to expand and develop, there is no doubt that many more special powers beyond arrest and detention will be added.

(See The Story of the Royal Bahamas Police Force at Research and Planning, Police Head Quarters, East Street, Nassau Bahamas)