by Latoya Burnham
Ronald Als will be the first to tell you he loves to fight.
Might be a strange thing to hear from a police officer whose job it is to prevent or break-up fights, but Ronald’s fights are of a different nature.
You see from the age of about 13 he enjoyed suiting up in boxing gloves and bouncing around the mat in the ring to show his mettle.
Sitting in Chefette, Black Rock, with his girlfriend Danielle Leacock by his side, Ronald spoke about entering the Barbados Defence Force’s sports programme as a boxer about nine years ago with the full intention of making that arm of the law his home.
But then things changed, ironically after a few run-ins with police.
“I had a few incidents in de past and interactions with the police and I wasn’t too happy wid de service and de way things went and I felt like I could start to make a difference,” said the 23-year-old lad.
One of those “incidents” was on his bike. The road was wet and slippery, he explained, and when he applied brakes on coming to a junction, he slid right through, the same time a police vehicle was approaching and one of the officers assumed he had broken the stop. Ever one to smile through confrontations, Ronald said when he realised that despite regional boxing successes it would take more than talent to become world ranked, he decided maybe he could be part of the change he wanted to see in the Force.
“I am an action guy. I was a boxer and then I had planned to make that my career. So when I decided maybe fighting wouldn’t be it, I left the army and applied here. Being in the army you start to see, I don’t want to be a soldier, so if I have to do law enforcement let me do it this way,” he said of the police force.
Surprisingly, he said, although his training in the BDF prepared him for entering the Regional Police Training Centre, what he did not expect was the level of academics involved.
“I was expecting something similar, a lot tougher than what it turned out to be, but I was geared mentally for what was to come. When I got there it turned out to be a lot more academic than I thought, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”
Martial arts, weapons training and police duties, he noted were among his favourite areas of the training that also involved fellow officers from Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
At the passing out ceremony last Thursday, Ronald walked away with the title of Best Recruit, winning Best at Multi-Disciplined Subjects, Best at Weapons Training, Best at Police Duty Subjects, Student with the Highest Aggregate, Most Outstanding Barbadian Student, the Commandant’s Trophy and the Baton of Honour.
The latter two represent the highest honour in training, being given to the student who performed consistently well in all aspects of the course, whose conduct was exemplary and who exhibited positive leadership qualities, sound judgement and practical ability.
“I left home with the intention of being the best recruit. So six months ago when I left home I said that was what I was going for. I did not think I would take as many [awards] as I did, so that was a shock, but the ultimate best recruit, I was geared for that. I just like to be good at everything I do. Everywhere I go I just like to lead. I always give as much as I can, 150 per cent if I can in everything I do, so this was no different,” he stated most matter-of-factly.
It’s something Danielle agreed on because after Ronald’s history of being top at his primary school, top three in the island when he headed to Queen’s College and having a head for academics and sports, she knew he could be successful at this too. Though they’ve only been together a year, she has already picked up on the fact that Ronald likes to be the best.
“I guess this was something I learnt to accept [his being in the Force] because he wanted to do it, but I guess as a personal preference, it wasn’t high on my list. I was really proud and happy because I knew before he went in his goal was to get best recruit, but the other six awards were not expected at all. So it was a really big thing,” she said.
His parents too were a rock for him.
“They know that once my mind is made up, that’s it, but they have always supported me in the choices I do make. However, I think they were glad when they heard me say I don’t want to fight anymore as a career. They were proud, happy, elated when I got all the awards.
“When I decided to leave the sports programme, that was it for my dad especially – he didn’t want that. I didn’t expect the kind of support I did get when I did decide to go [join the] police [force], so that was a plus knowing they were supporting me right through,” he said.
They found out two days before the ceremony that Ronald would take the lion’s share of the awards, and even then they were deep into preparations for the parade itself.
And it was not easy. Coupled with the expected rigors of the programme and the tough precision drills, the 52 recruits were also battling the emotions associated with the loss of one of their own – Darwin Downes.
It was a solemn time for them, Ronald said, and the high regard they all held for Downes led them to honour him in their passing out parade, with a special tribute called D.A.R.W.I.N.
“As expected it was hard to lose a colleague like that, but you learn that you might never get the answers to certain things… We knew he would want us to continue though, so we came together and decided to finish this course for him. That’s why we turned the drill into a tribute because he was great at drill actually. He was one of the guys that really helped us complete it.”
Having gone through the training and come out exceedingly successful on the other side, Ronald is aware that the work now begins.
“Seeing first hand what it is like I can now understand why, in terms of police response that it is sometimes almost impossible for [the public] to get what we expect. I had to move from beating the police in my head, to commending the police for the response we do get in some cases. Yes it was my initial view to want to make the change, but having been there I can now understand it is going to be tough but I still plan that what I can change I will, what I can’t I’m going to learn to accept.”
It doesn’t mean he’s forgotten what brought him into the force in the first place, or that he’s defeated by the tall task ahead.
“Personal service, in terms of the interaction between police and the public, there is no need for it to escalate to more than it needs to be. So my thing, personally, is to try to stay as professional as possible. To empathise with the people, but maintain a standard and see if I can be effective without going overboard.”
But a part of him still misses boxing – every day.
“Through fighting you get a lot of self-control, discipline, respect, self-confidence and I plan to use that to take me throughout life. So in most situations where you get hostile, I’m able to stay calm and smile my way through it and still handle what needs to be done.”
The young top recruit acknowledged that with the state of the economy, things are likely to get tougher for police on the street.
“I look at it as a good thing and a bad thing. If you don’t have tough times, then you don’t have a need for police. It will be challenging, honest, and it is my hope that as a unit the Force can go out there, do what needs to be done, manage de country and keep it safe and stable,” said the new cop. [email protected]