Retirement with no regrets
His t-shirt says it all: “RETIRED. Earned it. Living it. Loving it!”
After 36 years on the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) and working under five Commissioners of Police, Kenneth Tony Carrington believes he is entitled to kick back at his Bruce Vale, St. Andrew home or travel as he pleases.
One of a triplet, the retired police officer left St. Saviour’s Senior School at 15 years old before spending a few years working at Building Supplies Limited (formerly known as the brick factory). He also worked during the crop season at Hopewell Plantation in his teenage years, moved into construction in his early 20s, and then had a stint at the Animal Control Centre.
During that time he never gave a thought to joining the RBPF. But when a cousin who was a senior officer asked him if he thought he would like “the Force”, “I said I would give it a try.”
So, in the late 70s, Carrington sat the examination and was interviewed. But it wasn’t until two years later that he got a call, and he collected his kit and headed to the police training school.
Describing that experience as new, Carrington said: “It felt odd having to march along corridors rather than walk, but everybody was doing it.” Even though it was strange, the environment was not difficult to adjust to because “my mother ensured we were disciplined”. “We all had to go to church, Sunday School and night service. And if we didn’t do what our mother said, there was a price to pay,” he reminisced.
On graduating from the training school, Carrington, like all new recruits at the time, was assigned to Central Police Station. But when the Task Force was created, Carrington was one of its first members.
“The Task Force was formed to assist stations which had a lot of crime in their area… to suppress it. It was a 24-hour operation at six hours each,” he explained.
It was not long after Carrington joined the Task Force that its members were deployed to Grenada to assist with security during the 1983 coup staged by the Maurice Bishop-led New Jewel Movement. When people had been asked to volunteer for that assignment, not everyone wanted to go. But having never travelled by airplane before, Carrington saw it as an opportunity. Furthermore, he felt at the time, “you could get killed anywhere, so why not?”
Reality kicked in, though, when he reached Grenada and saw several explosions as he stepped off the military aircraft. Carrying rifles and backpacks, the Barbadian contingent of about 30 people ran to a house where they were informed they would assist in securing all prisoners who had been captured – some Grenadians and others Cubans.
Carrington described the Grenada invasion as “a soul-searching experience for the population.” It was also a lesson for him. “When I went into [the capital] St. Georges and realized people were living under curfew, banned from travelling to certain parts of the city, shops were closed and the army was giving out rations…it taught me not to take liberty for granted.”
He spent 14 months in Grenada, coming home only on alternate weekends. He had no idea that he would soon be asked to assist in peacekeeping in the African nation of Namibia, and later Haiti.
By 1989, Carrington was in Namibia in the midst of a civil war. He provided security at refugee camps set up by the United Nations, and patrolled the capital and the Angolan borders in an effort to prevent South African and Angolan troops from clashing. What was most interesting to him was the first day of Namibian elections. He recalled that voters began assembling from as early as 4 a.m. and by the time he reached the polling station, lines of thousands of people stretched as far as the eye could see.
Throughout his career, Carrington’s way was to “comply and then complain.” He never took shortcuts as a constable, so by the time his promotion to sergeant came, “everybody knew what I stood for”. His stance was clear: “Don’t bend rules if you know you can’t straighten them back out.”
When it comes to policing in Barbados, Carrington is a firm believer in foot patrols.
“Foot patrol is more effective than mobile patrol. If a man is about to commit a crime and a mobile unit passes, he only has to wait a few minutes until it goes along. With foot patrol you can interact more with John Public. People can tell you what challenges they are experiencing, you get to know the people in an area and they get to know you and trust you,” he stressed.
Although he has now left the RBPF, he still wants to see changes. One of them is allowing officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to be the first responders to a crime scene.
“Uniformed officers prioritize their complaints. If I go to a report I might not be able to give it my fullest attention because I have several others waiting. CID brings a different perspective and can pay more attention to detail. Crime scenes have a lot to say but you can miss something if you are short on time,” Carrington said to support his case.
“Crime is not new, but new methods are being used to commit crime. Criminals are more mobile, they have good communication and the best weapons. Before, a fellow would steal for himself; now they are stealing as part of an enterprise, so police have to be more vigilant.”
His advice to fellow officers on the beat? “Look for the unusual and follow your gut feeling. If you see a car parked, check it out…it might not always be lovers. If it is, you apologize and move on.”
Carrington also feels that the structure of recruiting cops needs to change and the certification barrier removed. With proper training, persons with the right attitude and a love for policing “can be some of our best policemen,” he said, noting that back in the late 70s and the 80s, many policemen had no qualifications “but did a hell of a job”.
“Johnny Salt-Bag was one of the best prosecutors – and many others – who came through the ranks,” Carrington said.
Now that he is walking away from the Force, the father of Renee, Reina and Reiko – all adults – is ready to relax.
“I gave the best part of my life to the Royal Barbados Police Force, with no regrets,” he said.
So he will take the first year of retirement for himself. “After that, I will see what happens,” a smiling Carrington added.