Regional

Grief! Manchester mourns murdered policeman

Monday, November 06, 2017

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Mandeville , Manchester — Parking spaces disappeared and traffic slowed to a snail's crawl.

But the inconvenience was less than a footnote, as a large crowd converged on the Cecil Charlton Park in the centre of Mandeville last Thursday to pay respects to a hero, gone too soon, a victim of mindless criminals.

Corporal Melvin Smith of the Community Safety and Security Branch in the Manchester Police Division — arguably the most loved lawman of recent memory in these parts — was shot dead in Mandeville while trying to thwart a robbery on the night of October 27.

Last Thursday's function, a tributes forum and prayer service, organised by the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in collaboration with private and public entities, started sometime after 3:00 pm and lasted until long after dark. People from every walk of life, speaking from the podium, as well as in private, remembered a policeman who was always smiling and always trying to help others.

Corporal Smith's widow Valerie, his 11-year-old daughter Rheana, his mother Olive Smith, brother Ronald, and other relatives were among those listening as the tributes poured.

The large crowd was 'wowed' as Rheana, often wearing her father's trademark wide smile, serenely paid her own tribute to the fallen hero by keyboarding the classic Christian hymn, Amazing Grace.

There was complete approval as president of the NCU, Dr Lincoln Edwards announced plans for a full scholarship for Rheana at NCU when she leaves high school. She is a first-form student at Hampton, in Malvern, St Elizabeth.

Edwards later told Jamaica Observer Central that “all expenses will be taken care of” and that the university will “welcome” participation from the community.

Manchester's leading politicians, including Finance Minister Audley Shaw and former Cabinet Minister Peter Bunting, business and civic leaders — some crying as they spoke — recalled Smith as a man who gave willingly of himself and who never seemed prepared to say “no” to any request for help.

Even as they mourned, speakers pointed to the afflictions of the Jamaican society, which led to Smith's death.

Dr Michael Coombs, Regional Technical Director, Southern Regional Health Authority noted “that very likely” the killer was someone who had grown up without a father to properly guide him and with a mother who was simply unable to bring him up properly because of the stresses of everyday life.

And Tony Freckleton, chairman of the Manchester Parish development Committee said Smith's murder was yet more evidence of the urgent need to “get a grip” on Jamaica's crippling gun culture.

In conversation with the Jamaica Observer Central, Mikael Phillips, Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western recalled Smith's lead role in community counseling a few years ago during a time of “trouble in Greenvale” (just outside Mandeville).

“No matter how violent or disruptive a community was, he wouldn't back away from it…,” Phillips said.

“Corporal Smith's death is a great loss to Manchester, he was a wonderful human being, anytime you see him he is smiling, always jovial, always on the job,” said Phillips.

“We can only imagine how his family is feeling but also think about the young men, young women who he would have touched out there in the communities, who rely on even a phone call from him or just his advice to keep on the right path,” added Phillips.

Sergeant Verona Johnson of the Kendal Police station who worked for years alongside Smith in the Community Safety and Security Branch said the explanation for Smith's impact was very simple.

“Smith loved people,” she said. “He loved people so much, he would give away what he did not have,” she said.

Commander of the Manchester Police Division, Superintendent Wayne Cameron told journalists that Corporal Smith's impact on his workmates was as positive as it was with the general public.

“Sometimes you will hear policemen say they have challenges with each other, sometimes I have to step in to fix that problem,” Cameron said.

“But with Corporal Smith it was different… no one has ever complained about Corporal Smith. He always had a pleasant and quiet disposition. In fact he is the one who fix most of those problems on the ground in terms of our peers, and he worked with them to ensure that everybody gets through the day,” said Cameron.

“As a community safety officer he was extremely good. He was good at getting school children off the streets in the evenings, good at community meetings. He had a special skill to interact with people…,” the police chief added.

Cameron said the public response to the Corporal's death underlined his importance to the community. In all his years in the Constabulary he had never seen such an outpouring of grief for a fallen policeman, he said.

“As you can see what has been demonstrated here this evening is a manifestation of what I am talking about. Everyone is hurting and we will ensure that the culprits who murdered this policeman are brought to justice,” he said.

To that end two men - one from Kemps Hill in Clarendon and another from New England in Manchester - are now in custody in relation to Smith's murder. They are to go before identification parades this week, Cameron said.

Others are also being sought. “We know there are at least two other players who are involved. We are searching for a man who may have driven a white motorcar taking them away from the scene … we are also looking for another man who was seen in their company, 20 minutes prior to the shooting. That man is also from Manchester. Clearly there was some plan afoot in terms of orchestrating that robbery... So we still have work to do but we will get it done,” said Cameron.

Smith, a 38 year-old native of Content, close to Santa Cruz in St Elizabeth was gunned down while in pursuit of men who had robbed a young man of his motorcycle.

Cameron hailed residents of Mandeville for the support being given to the investigations.

“I am getting significant help from the community… so far we are pleased with what we have gotten,” the police chief said.

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