IACP on Leadership Interview

Police Leadership in The Bahamas Is No Vacation for Commissioner Greenslade

Ellison Greenslade was appointed the sixth commissioner of police in an independent Bahamas on January 4, 2010. He had served as the acting deputy commissioner from January 1, 2009 upon completion of a one-year temporary assignment with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada. Prior to that, Greenslade was the longest serving district commander for The Northern Bahamas. During that seven-year tenure, he received national and international recognition for his leadership role during times of crisis, particularly the search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricanes Frances (2004), Jeanne (2004), and Wilma (2005).

He still has fond memories of the excitement he felt when, in the summer of 1979, he entered the Bahamas Police Academy as a recruit constable. He graduated at the top of his class and won the coveted Baton of Honor. He continued his education, subsequently obtaining an associate's degree in business administration from The College of The Bahamas and completed numerous executive-level courses on leadership and administration in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

His awards and honors are many, everything from The Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) for distinguished police service to Boss of The Year for the Island of Grand Bahama (2003) to an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree by Sojourner-Douglas College in Baltimore for exemplary police leadership. A member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials (NOBLE), Greenslade was nice enough to sit down recently and answer our questions about his career, his style of leadership, and his ongoing commitment to duty.
What follows is our chat:

IACP: What do you consider the most important traits of a leader, especially one involved in law enforcement?

ELLISON GREENSLADE: There are several traits that I consider important to be an effective leader. These traits are consistent with leadership literature, and they include but are not limited to being caring, honest, credible, and empathetic. However, I strongly believe that, most predominantly, a leader must possess a distinguishable mark of authenticity as one of the most significant traits. He or she must also be seen as honest and credible in every aspect of work and social life. Leaders must illuminate their spaces in such a way that they exude strength of character, confidence, credibility, and integrity, as these are also traits which influence others around them to want to follow them.

My experience over the course of my working life is that human beings are very perceptive and possess an innate ability to determine when persons and things are “real.” Being “real” and having strength of character does not translate into being abrasive. These are traits to be admired when they are manifested in respectful and graceful ways.

IACP: What are some of the unique challenges you face in policing in your specific part of the world?

EG: The Bahamas is nestled a mere 50 nautical miles from the coastline of Florida. As a result, we are impacted significantly by the American experience. There is a saying that “if America sneezes, The Bahamas catches a cold.” Suffice it to say, our challenges are very similar to those experienced by law enforcement officers in the United States. We are currently challenged by violent crimes, which are exacerbated by the possession and use of illegal firearms. The use of illegal firearms is driving up crime figures in categories such as murder, serious wounding, and armed robberies. These crimes are being committed in local communities. With the exception of some armed robberies, these are not stranger-on-stranger crimes. Fortunately, these crimes do not significantly affect our tourist industry. There is a prevailing view, however, that negative media reports can have an adverse effect on our fragile tourism industry.

Aside from crime challenges, organizational culture and culture generally are aspects of a police chief’s life that present daily challenges. Those of us who are committed to change and professionalism in all respects have an appreciation of how difficult it is to change culture and to sustain such cultural changes. I am of the firm view that until we change the culture of violence in our communities to a culture of peace, we will continue to struggle with high crime levels and insecurity.

IACP: You and your department must come in contact with a lot of tourists and travelers. What do you tell your officers and support staff in terms of dealing with such a constantly "influx" group of people?

EG: The Bahamas’ number one industry is Tourism. Therefore, all citizens and residents in The Bahamas have a good appreciation of what we refer to as “the goose that lays the golden eggs.” That being said, police officers join the service with a sensitization to the importance of tourism to our country, and my experience is that officers effectively fulfill their mandate for keeping our visitors safe. We encourage our officers to spend a lot of their time interacting with tourists in our city center, and we tell them to share information about our history with them. We stress to our officers that they should spare no effort in conveying to visitors our intentions to keep them safe and to allow them to enjoy a crime-free visit to our shores.

Further, to enhance service delivery skills across the country, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism delivers training to persons working in the industry, which is coined “Bahamahost.” This training is delivered to police cadets/recruits during their initial training program, and it has proven to be very beneficial.

It is important to point out that, given the importance we attach to keeping our city center safe, we created a Tourism Policing Unit (TPU) that is currently staffed by an excess of 120 police officers who are dedicated to foot patrols and tourism-related duties in the city center of Nassau.

IACP: Can you give a specific example of an experience where your skills as commissioner were really put the test?

EG: I have had several very dangerous experiences over the course of my career. As an assistant chief of police, I was held hostage by a hostile young man who was strung out on drugs and who had intentions of killing his girlfriend, himself, and me. I was held hostage in a van for about three hours negotiating with this suspect in hopes of not losing my life and saving the lives of others. I employed skills learned over many years of policing and was able to bring the situation to a successful conclusion without the loss of any lives. Gunshots were discharged, but the incident ended without bloodshed and the suspect being taken into custody. I did have a cell phone on this occasion and technology truly saved my life.

A short time after my appointment as commissioner of police, I was faced with a police-involved shooting death. Patrolling officers reported being accosted by a young man with a pistol, and they shot and fatally injured him. Moments after the shooting, the community surrounded the crime scene and refused to allow that scene to be processed. The crowd, including relatives, insisted that the body was not going to be removed. Tensions rose by the minute as the crowd grew bigger and more belligerent. The assistant police chief on the scene phoned me to say that we were poised for an all-out riot and that things were deteriorating by the minute. He stressed that we needed to remove the body of the victim and leave the area. He stated that I needed to attend the scene to make a community appeal.

I made my way to the scene in civilian dress on purpose and deployed a community-based policing strategy prior to arriving at the scene. I parked well away from the area and walked to the scene with community members as opposed to police officers. After much talking, I was able to convince the community to allow the body to be moved with dignity. Unfortunately, an unknown person threw a missile just as the morticians were leaving the scene with the body, and the crowd dispersed in confusion and fear. Instinctively, police officers fired their weapons into the air, in what they perceived was appropriate action, to discourage any assaults on police officers. Immediately, the whole scene became chaotic. Suffice it to say, we were able to successfully remove the victims’ body and quickly withdraw all police officers from the area. We established an outer cordon quite some distance away so as not to invite any further confrontation, and we allowed local community leaders to intercede with the community.

The local press led with stories of rioting, which I refuted immediately. The next few days were spent with me holding several press conferences to dispel rumors and to give assurances that an independent investigation was being conducted by a Magistrate of the Courts. I clearly stated that I did not believe that we could appropriately investigate ourselves and that we were happy to have an independent investigation and oversight in the matter.

The entire week following the shooting kept my attention as I led walkabouts in the affected community, met several times with the families at their residence, and kept the press informed. I am satisfied that a major riot was averted and that we prevented further deaths and negative international news headlines.

IACP: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

EG: The most favorite part of my job is being a part of the happy times in the lives of our people both members of the public and police officers. Promotions, weddings of officers, births of their children, completion of their educational studies are all very happy times for me. I refer to all officers as my children. I do not say this just as a matter of speech. I behave like a good father who has the best interest of his children at heart constantly. I enjoy being a father to such a large and beautiful family—the family of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. To date my family is about 4,200 members strong.

I also perform many good deeds for members of the public as a part of my job. These are legitimate good deeds of hospitality, generosity, and benevolence, and they bring joy to the lives of citizens. It gives me a sense of belonging to the communities that I serve and reminds me that my most significant work is being a servant to the people of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

IACP: What is the least favorite part of your job ... or rather, what do you still find challenging or most difficult?

EG: The most challenging part of my job is attending funeral services and giving a flag to a parent, spouse, or child of a police officer who has died in service, whether killed in the line of duty or otherwise. I am not ashamed to tell you that most times, tears fill my eyes and roll down my cheeks. I reflect, during these final moments at a gravesite, that families give us their healthy sons and daughters upon entrance at the police academy, and, at the end, I give them a flag. What amazing sacrifices these fallen officers and their families make! I can never get accustomed with this final act at the grave of a fallen officer—a member of my family.

IACP: Was there some advice given to you early in your career that has stuck with you?

EG: I was focused when I joined the police force and my intentions were pure. Therefore, I was noticed at a very early age by many supervisors, and I soon received my first promotion. Subsequent promotions were steady and rapid. Upon my first promotion, the team that I was working with spoke with me admiringly and said, “Corporal, do not change as you move up the ranks. Please continue to be the person that you are.” What a simple, but profound bit of advice from people who were proud of me and who wanted to see me ascend to the highest rank in my force.

I took that advice “to be authentic” upon my first promotion, and I have never forgotten it. I have never changed. I have grown older and wiser, but I have never changed on my people. I believe that I have remained an authentic, caring, honest, credible, and empathetic leader.

IACP: What advice would you give someone now who might just be starting their first command?

EG: In addition to giving the advice that was given to me, my advice would be that a person in a new command position must be observant, alert, and should resist criticizing what he or she does not understand. He or she must make his people top priority and ensure that they are well trained, well equipped, well deployed, well cared for and respected and well led. Once the staff develops confidence in the new commander and forms the impression that he is adding value to their family, he stands an excellent chance receiving their full support and getting some really good police work done.

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