All Woman

Service above self

Florene Clarke on her love affair with policing, social work

BY NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 07, 2013    

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FLORENE Clarke knew from an early age that she wanted to serve people; today she does precisely that — as a police officer and as a certified social worker.

Sergeant Clarke has been a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) for 14 years, having worked as an special constable with the Island Special Constabulary Force. Work with both organisations, she said, has been nothing if not rewarding.

"It has been a good and successful journey," she told All Woman during a recent interview, adding that she has no intention of parting company with the JCF any time soon.

"Policing is more than just policing; it's how much you love the task and how much of self you are willing to put into it," Clarke said.

The police sergeant said she learnt the value of service as a member of a uniform band organised by the Spanish Town Seventh-day Adventist Drum Corp. She continues to serve her church community in several capacities, including being a Sabbath school teacher for teenagers.

Clarke, who describes herself as a 'people person', said her personality has, over time, enhanced her ability to carry out her duties as the sub-officer in charge of the St Andrew Central Community Safety and Security Division, where she has been stationed since 2003. She is currently the divisional co-ordinator for the Safe School programme, the division's neighbourhood watch activities, and the police youth clubs in that area as well.

With the support of her co-workers and the encouragement of more senior officers, her group has been able to achieve a lot in the separate areas.

"For me, the success in terms of community safety and security comes through intertwining policing with social work. I have a passion for working with youths and children," she said.

While Clarke's love for service is what enticed her to the force, it never occurred to her to get involved in social work until the day, nine years ago, when she was preparing a police report for a woman who had been involved in an accident.

"When I was through dealing with it, the customer said to me, 'Ms Clarke, I am recommending that you go to the University of the West Indies and take on the social work programme, because I see the skills in you; you are very competent and I am satisfied with the progress of your report so far'," recounted the sergeant.

Clarke said she did not initially give the suggestion much thought, but a few weeks later, she received a package containing a UWI brochure from the lady. At first, the officer said she did a certificate course, but she got so immersed in the programme that she went on to complete a bachelor's degree in social work and is now studying for a master's in the area.

"I was discovering myself; identifying my strengths, so that I would have been able to push forward. It was in some of my courses that I realised the passion that I really have for youths," she said.

"I have a natural flair for social work and that is what pushes me to be the police that I am," added Clarke, who was elected the public relations officer for the Jamaica Association of Social Workers which was launched last year.

Meanwhile, her training in social work has further equipped her to work with the youths who come to her for guidance and advice in various areas of life. For example, the demand for counselling interventions was so great in her division that in 2009 they suggested the establishment of a counselling centre.

"This came out of the fact that several school days, sometimes you would find 10 or 15 or even 25 students coming in because either they are gang members who were fighting or they are having problems at home. So you realise that they really need the help," she said.

They were eventually able to build a centre at the Half-Way-Tree Police Station, with the approval of the Ministry of National Security and funding from the European Union. They also partnered with Northern Caribbean University, which provides students on practicum to help with the counselling sessions.

Being a police officer means Clarke has to put in long hours on the job, but she does not bat an eye since she considers her work very fulfilling.

"For each week we have different police youth club meetings, and so at five o'clock when many other officers are ready to go through the gate, we have to be thinking of interacting with the youths to help. We sit and listen to them, so if they have challenges at home, they'll call. At the end of the day, there is a satisfaction within to say, 'yes, you are making a change' because instead of them going out there to make negative moves, you find out that they come to you to ask for guidance," she said.

Her major focus right now is on the Peace for Champs campaign, which will see officers in a few of the Kingston police divisions working alongside students to help them to be role models for other students and maintain the peace in about 30 different schools. This is expected to minimise conflicts during the Issa Boys' and Girls' Championships and Manning Cup events as well as at the transport centre.

Clarke also likes working alongside citizens involved in the various neighbourhood watch programmes in the St Andrew Central Division and, over the years, has worked with several of these community members to formulate plans and ideas to enhance the safety level within these communities.

Despite her hectic schedule, Clarke is happy that she has been able to successfully raise her two children to be upstanding citizens and well-rounded individuals. Her daughter Yanique, 17, is currently preparing for her Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams and her son, Oaquian, now an adult, is working while pursuing studies at the Jamaica-German Automotive School.

"I am not one of those parents who complain that my children are disrespectful. I am not one of those parents who wish to see my son's pants pulled up to his waist, because I have never seen it down [below his bottom]. So God be praised, I have done my best," Clarke said.

Keeping the line of communication open, she believes, is important, and so she has applied this principle not only when dealing with her own children, but also with the other youths who seek her out for advice. One of the biggest complaints she finds among the youths is the unavailability of jobs and so she has managed to encourage several of them to join the force.

"Our youth club members, when they come in here, we encourage them and say 'Listen, it's hard to get jobs out there; some of you are qualified, the Jamaica Constabulary Force is here for you'," she said.

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