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Police Force Historical Overview

From the early 18th Century to the latter part of the 19th Century, the development of policing generally followed the pattern of policing in England.  During the first half of this period, men were appointed as constables to assist in the enforcement of government rules and regulations, and the apprehension of offenders.  Night Watchmen were also assigned to protect the town of Nassau (Capital of the Bahamas) during the night, as early as 1729, there was a constable in New Providence.  However, his duties seem not to have been as broad and well defined as the police of today.  This constable was attached to the local Magistrate, Justices of the Peace and every other Government official.  Indeed, he did very little on his own initiative and was probably at the bottom of the government ladder. 

In 1799, an Act of the General Assembly (now called Parliament) declared that all constables would have the same powers as their counterparts in England.  They were then allowed to arrest on suspicion of crime as opposed to only after the crime had been committed.  In 1827, the assembly stipulated their mode of appointment.  It is evident that during this period, only one constable was appointed to serve at a time in each district.  These appointments were made by the serving Magistrate with the assistance of two Justices of the Peace.  Influential plantation owners nominated the prospective constables. 

As time passed and crime increased, a small number of constables were appointed to serve at the same time.  However, they were never organized as a formal police force.  Each was responsible to the Magistrate in a particular district.  It is interesting to note that this system of constables has evolved into the District and Local Constables of today. 

During the early years of British Colonial Rule, slaves made up the majority of the population in the Bahamas.  The little policing needed was done by the free population with the help of Constables, Magistrates, and Justices of the Peace.  Any rebellion or potential rebellion by the slaves was kept in check by the local detachment of soldiers and the slave owners. 

Prior to the abolition of slavery in 1834, there was a system of night patrols in New Providence called the Night Guard.  The men forming this guard were not constables, but were also supervised by the local Magistrate.  Their duties were primarily to protect the homes and businesses of the free population at night.  In addition, the West India Regiment was stationed in Nassau to take care of any serious breach of peace throughout The Bahamas.  These men were trained soldiers recruited from different ethnic groups in Africa and The Caribbean.  They lived in Barracks in isolation from the populations to ensure their loyalty in the vent of local slave uprising.  In addition, their duties also included the protection of the Islands from Foreign Invaders.  At that time, the barracks was situated on the site where the Hilton British Colonial Hotel now stands.    

The majority of the Family Islands which make up The Bahamas were largely neglected as far as Law Enforcement was concerned, for the simple reason that crime in these areas was almost non-existent.

(See History of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Hand Book 1840 - 1990 at the Police Training College  Library Thompson Boulevard, Oaks Field, Nassau Bahamas)