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Fathers on the front line

Gory crime scenes involving children, elderly take greatest psychological toll on cops

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2024 | 12:13 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey taking a trip down memory lane with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey taking a trip down memory lane with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

On June 21, 2022, a dark veil clouded the close-knit rural community of Cocoa Piece in Clarendon. Residents awoke to the horrifying news that a mother and her four children, who were like family to them, lost their lives in a most brutal way.
On June 21, 2022, a dark veil clouded the close-knit rural community of Cocoa Piece in Clarendon. Residents awoke to the horrifying news that a mother and her four children, who were like family to them, lost their lives in a most brutal way.
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Of all the crime scenes seared in the memory of retiring Deputy Police Commissioner Fitz Bailey, none has shaken the father of three more than the 2022 Cocoa Piece massacre in which a mother and her four children were slaughtered by a relative.

“I went to the scene. I just glimpsed. I just couldn’t stand to see what existed there,” he told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday.

On June 21, 2022, hours after Father’s Day, the throats of 31-year-old Kemesha Wright and her children – Kimanda Smith, 15; Sharalee Smith, 12; Rafaela Smith, five; and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr – were slashed while they slept in their Clarendon home. Their cousin, Rushane Barnett, then 23, was later convicted and handed five life sentences for the crime.

“The type of gloominess that existed over the community; you see the response of the relatives. It takes strength really to stand up in these sort of scenarios. I think that’s one of the worst,” Bailey reflected. “Men often mask their feelings and have been brought up that way. But that crime scene was indescribable and the emotions were painful.”

Such gruesome scenes place a psychological burden on investigators, who probe an average 1,300 murders and countless shootings and other crimes committed in Jamaica annually.

At the time of the chilling Cocoa Piece murders, then chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Corporal Rohan James, himself a father, said the incident shook him and many others across all ranks in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). He said the heavy scent of blood hung over the community miles away from the scene, and that several cops had to seek psychological support.

James said every policeman who is a father, and who is away for long periods from their families, imagine the scene being close to home.

Many police officers traumatised

“I have never seen so many police officers traumatised by a single incident. Big people cry. People who didn’t even know them still cried,” said James, who added that the police are particularly impacted by crimes against children and senior citizens, especially old women.

“I have two girls and one boy and I was talking about how we treat our boys. My son, I constantly remind him that he is loved by me. I say that regularly to my daughters, but with sons, sometimes we believe it is not manly to say to your son, ‘I love you’. But it’s one of the things I keep reminding my son,” said James.

“I can’t say that specific incident [pushed us closer] because sometimes I don’t want to even ... I don’t discuss those traumatic scenes, because I don’t want it to have that impact on them,” he told The Sunday Gleaner then.

He said that he sometimes avoided watching the news so as not to relive the trauma.

“But I constantly remind them. Sometimes I don’t get to speak with my daughters when I call. Young people today are different from our time, but I make sure they know that I love them. Growing up, making contact with my mother was a priority for me as well as my father,” he explained.

Bailey, who heads the JCF’s crime portfolio, said crime scene investigators, who see the effects of violence up close and then return to their families are often very shaken.

“I am a very spiritual person, so at the end of each day when I am finished working, I find some time to meditate, find some time to spend with my Maker and pray, and I think that that gives a sense of respite and relief. You may have but the periodic dream, but what I find sometimes, though, is that you are not able to sleep when you go to those scenes. You struggle to sleep,” he said.

And as hard as they try, sometimes they just cannot forget the gory scenes.

“When you hear the narrative involving what was done in some cases, the experiences become so painful that the police, who are trained to investigate it, get sick,” Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner, shaking his head.

One such other case involving children caused every member of the investigating team to seek internal and external psychological intervention.

The deputy commissioner of police recalled being asked to speak about one of the child murder cases in Jamaica at a conference in Barbados put on by the Caribbean Court of Justice. He was led to tears.

“The truth is, every time I recount it, it actually brought a sense of gloominess, and at one stage, it brought tears to my eyes. I remember I was speaking to one of my superintendents, and I said, ‘When I come back, I think I am gonna get some professional intervention as a result of the impact that scene was having on me personally. Not only on me, but on the entire team that was involved in that investigation’,” Bailey disclosed.

“It really had us. We understand the intimacy and detail of the investigation. We sat in the reviews, we sat in some of the interviews, we heard the account of the incident. It was really depressing,” he explained.

As part of the wider policy of the JCF, he said that individuals who constantly deal with traumatic cases, including Scenes of Crime investigators and personnel at the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, are provided with constant interventions by the JCF’s Chaplaincy Services Branch and externally.

“They are family members. They have to go home. They have children, and the trauma can have significant psychological impact on them,” he said.

While an inspector on weekend duty years ago, Bailey recalled being called to a murder scene on Maxfield Avenue and almost “lost it” when he saw the condition of the bodies. The heavy grief led him to “disappear” – for a while.

“I turned off my radio, cellular phone, and I just decided it was enough. I just went home, and no one could make any contact with me. Just going to the scene and hearing the parents and children crying, mother crying beside the bodies on the ground, and that was after going to several other scenes. It can be very traumatising and you really struggle to sleep,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Bailey said he cannot have peace until there is closure in some of these crimes.

“So my team will tell you that I push them very hard because we have to find the perpetrators. Sometimes it stirs you up. You sometimes put yourself in the position of the family members, those who are alive. What do you want? And you want to ensure that justice is done? So you continue to look at all the opportunities. You want to reflect, and even during the night in your head, you try to determine what lines of enquiry you should make. What are the things you need to do to ensure that the matter is resolved?” he said.

BAILEY THE DAD

As a father, on the job, his mind is constantly on his three children, who were raised in the church.

He said that he never missed an opportunity to take them to school and enjoyed the unforgettable conversations on the journeys. He describes one as an avid reader from a tender age, another as a super organiser, and the youngest as just being himself.

“Sometimes I think a lot – daydream. Sometimes I think of my children [and] the type of responses [I would have] if it were my children. I don’t know if it’s a phobia, but I am afraid of them going and taking public transport. Maybe I am overprotective. My son – my one son, maybe I am overprotective – to this very day, I try to avoid him taking public transport. I want to know what exactly is happening to him, where he is. If he goes out, I would be constantly checking on him. If I know my children are not home, you can’t have a sense of peace and calm until you know that they are home,” he stressed, even at the expense of being called paranoid by his wife.

On the contrary, DCP said, he was not overbearing but, instead, pragmatic because of the environment in which he operates and his experiences over the decades.

DCP Bailey and his team of mostly men celebrate each other at every opportunity. While not taking anything away from mothers, he bemoans how little effort is placed on celebrating men. Admitting that the real problems in society were caused by men, he wants to see a reordering of the society where men can take their rightful place and be appreciated.

Men, he said, must begin by acknowledging their responsibilities.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com