A night on the town: A Bermuda policeman searches the clothing of an apprehended man on a previous night’s duty. *File photo
A night on the town: A Bermuda policeman searches the clothing of an apprehended man on a previous night’s duty. *File photo

Statistics show that crime is down in Bermuda — but that does not mean all is quiet on the front line. 

We took to the streets with Chief Inspector Calvin Smith to witness a Friday night in the life of a police officer patrolling this new and allegedly safer Bermuda.

And there was no shortage of drama as we got up close with the perennial problem of drink-related violence, as well as a hunt for a burglary suspect and a report of ‘shots fired’. 

Life on the beat with the island’s crime-fighters...

he man is bleeding from his forehead, spitting on the sidewalk and hurling expletives-laden threats into the early-morning air.

There is a cut above his eye; someone just bottled him at The Beach on Front Street.

It is sometime after 2am early last Saturday. The bleeding man is in the process of being bounced out of the pub just as Chief Inspector Calvin Smith steps out of his black Honda CRV, which he parked nearby.

The blood is all over the now-ejected bar patron’s face and his gray polo shirt. He is raging. He is swearing and gesturing. 

The printable gist: he wants to get back in the bar to have a go at whoever made him bleed. He makes a few lunges for the entrance, but there are police, bouncers and a friend all between him and the entrance.  

More futile gestures and unprintable expletives follow one of his attempts. One of the policemen knows who he is and uses his first name while imploring him to calm down. He is led around a corner. 

He stews in his anger while an ambulance is called. The consensus amongst those on the sidewalk: stitches will be needed.

Police ask the bar staff why they give bottles to the patrons, instead of pouring the beverages into plastic cups. The point being plastic cups make for a less dangerous projectile as they don’t typically cut faces open.

A bartender tells police it takes too much time to pour the bottles into the cups. The police are unimpressed with this answer. Their take: if you’re going to allow people into the bar who have a tendency to drink too much and strike people in the face, don’t arm them with glass bottles.

“Unbelievable,” mutters one cop outside the bar.

The good news

Mr. Smith has been dealing with such instances for almost 30 years.  He joined the force on a $20 bet; previously, he had played in the Bermuda Regiment Band and worked as a deejay at night. 

A friend made a wager that he wouldn’t join the police force. Three decades later, he’s still there. 

He’s worked for the prosecutions department, Criminal Investigation Department and serious crime unit, he has run the cadets programme, among other roles. On this night, he’s the highest-ranking commander on duty.

The 52-year-old, who grew up in St. George’s, has witnessed a lot of crime. Some of it comical, some of it hideous. He recalls a man caught wearing a woman’s girdle containing drugs. The man denied knowing the drugs were in the girdle, he says. He recalls having to interview a man who admitted to drowning his daughter by holding her underwater with his foot. He recalls drugs being smuggled into the island in sealed canned goods.

Recently, however, there’s been nothing but good news coming out of the Bermuda Police Service. 

Last year’s statistics show the crime rate is at a 13-year low. The gang violence that plagued the island in 2009 and 2010 has reduced.  Mr. Smith credits increased police powers that make it easier to search an individual, and if drugs are found on that person, their home. 

He also points to long prison sentences that “have probably provided some confidence to people in the community to assist the police more”.

That isn’t to say the gang problem has totally gone away.

‘Everyone knows it’

On Front Street, after the first bloody brawl, another very brief altercation breaks out, this time on the sidewalk. There is a crowd, a skirmish and someone takes off running, some police pursue.

Shortly thereafter, one member of the force gestures toward a group of young, black males standing near the entrance of The Beach.

“Do you know who the gangsters are yet? They’re right there. That’s them,” he says. 

Underlying the difference between what authorities know and what they can prove in a court of law, the policeman continues, sounding both irritated and disgusted: “This must be the only country in the world where the gangsters are there and everyone knows it.”

Mr. Smith, a father of two and grandfather of one, has to work overnight on the weekends about once every two months or so. 

He doesn’t drink coffee, so he usually grabs something to eat after midnight to keep him going to the early hours just before dawn. Tonight, it’s a burger with mayo and tomato and a side of fries from a food truck on Front Street.

Earlier in the night, he made his rounds, scoping out parking lots in Hamilton,  driving out to The Reefs Resort & Club, stopping at bars. 

Everywhere he goes, people know his name. Some say hello, others nod their acquaintance, others take in the white police uniform and then assiduously avoid eye contact.

He makes appearances at Docksider, Leopards Club, and Western Stars Sports Club, among other establishments, to assess the crowd and try and read whether there could be any problems later in the night.

“I believe in decisions and consequences,” he says at one point.

Bungled burglary 

Pomander Road curls near the southern edge of the inner harbour in Paget. Across the water is the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.

On this night, flashlight-wielding police are combing the yard of one apparently unoccupied home on the road. 

One policeman thinks he knows who the guy is; he had arrested him in the past, he says.

Police think they caught the man they are searching for in the act of trying to break into a house on the road; there have been reports of break-ins in the area recently.

The alleged perpetrator took off on a red bike that was probably stolen — it’s hotwired and has the wrong plates. The bike didn’t get him far. 

When Smith arrives at the scene, it’s on its side, engine still running. The man apparently crashed into the door of a garage before taking off on foot. It is after midnight.

There is now a search for the alleged burglar. It is dark. 

There are no lights on in the house, which appears to have multiple apartment units.

Police knock on the various doors; no one answers. There is a car parked in the driveway. 

There is talk of running that car’s plates in the police database. 

The road isn’t that long and is flanked by the water on one side; police are posted at both ends of Pomander. How far could he have gone? 

He could have swum across the inlet, some speculate, or he may be hiding out somewhere in one of the yards in the dark.

There is a discussion about whether they should call in the police canine unit.  Mr. Smith says the dogs are reliable if they can pick up the scent, but the handful of police who are now searching the area could make that more difficult. 

He ultimately makes the call: bring in the canine unit. 

There is consternation about the apparent lack of an available vehicle that could tow the hotwired bike. After some hemming and hawing, a vehicle is found that can do the job.

The man is not found.

Shots fired

It’s earlier in the shift, before the botched burglary and the blood on Front Street. 

There are reports of shots fired somewhere near Warwick Camp. It’s an area that has had gang activity in the past, says Mr. Smith. There are no reports of any injuries in the area. 

An off-duty police officer heard the shots — he was adamant the sound was gunfire — followed by a car taking off down the road.

The off-duty cop could not make out the make or model of the car, but did say the car sounded loud, as if the exhaust was
outfitted with a custom pipe.

Smith orders two units — four police total — to respond to the scene. He tells the responders to be on the lookout for broken windows and, if possible, bullet casings.

Mr. Smith drives to the area; he circles the Bermuda Regiment’s parking lot in Warwick Camp. There is a man walking in the parking lot. Smith waves and says hello. 

The man tells Smith, whom he calls “Smitty”, he just was driving a regiment van nearby when he was run off the road by a car travelling at speed in the opposite direction. 

The car looked like a white Volkswagen Golf and had an “engine with some sound to it”. 

Mr. Smith suspects that car could be connected to the shots fired. He tells police to sweep through the area and to keep an eye out for the car.

The man in the parking lot looks shaken.

“Looks like you need a tequila,” Smith tells him at one point.

After the man leaves, I ask Smith if he knew the guy would be in the regiment parking lot. He shakes his head no. A coincidence.

 “A lot of the time you make your own luck.”

Bullet casings would be found the next morning near where police believe the shots were fired.