Despite nursing dream, first woman deputy chief constable wouldn’t change a thing

Laurel Gittens

If Laurel Gittins had her way, 36 years ago she would have become a nurse as that was her dream. But even though that memory remains, she does not regret the years she has spent in the City Constabulary and is proud to have been the first woman promoted to Deputy Chief Constable (DCC).

“… I saw the advertisement for both and I applied to become a nurse and to become a constable at the City Constabulary,” Gittins, who had been acting in the position of DCC since November 2016, told the Sunday Stabroek.

She was called by the City Constabulary and never looked back since. However, as she approaches the end of her journey with the Constabulary, she noted that she still “has options” as it relates to nursing and hinted at home care. She had never received a response to her application to the nursing school.

It only was recently the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) confirmed Gittins as DCC. She is not the highest woman in ranking as Gail George would have been appointed Chief Constable, but George never held the position of DCC. City Councillors two Mondays ago unanimously agreed to promote Gittins to Senior Superintendent and confirmed her as DCC.

Asked if she sees her recent elevation as paving the way for other women who make up two thirds of the Constabulary, Gittins said that would depend on their attitude and dedication to the job. And while she worked in a men-dominated sector for almost all of her working life Gittins said she has no regrets and she never allowed challenges and criticisms to deter her from plodding on but rather used these as motivation.

A stickler for discipline (as was pointed out by the M&CC Public relations officer Debra Lewis who sat in on the interview as per protocol of the council) Gittins may not have always been the favourite even among her female colleagues, but she always ensured that she did what was right.

Before joining the Constabulary, Gittins thought she had her life made. She had a husband with a good job, a thriving business and three children. But her husband’s subsequent drug addiction turned life as she knew it upside down. It was just off a broken marriage and as a single parent that she joined the City Constabulary.

Before this, she had a stint in the Guyana National Service (GNS), was a supervisor at a diner and had even briefly worked at the Ministry of Agriculture.

After joining the Constabulary, she started off doing general duties which included security around the markets and also being at various locations. She had only worked three months night duty, she recalled, when one night while she was at the Bourda location, the then officer-in-charge Vernon T Lynch visited and said, “night duty is not for you, report for work at 8 am tomorrow.”

A year later, she was moved to the M&CC Credit Union as a typist. Then two years later, she was sent on a training course in Supervision and Basic English at the Guyana Police Force’s Felix Austin Training School. Upon completion of her training, she was promoted to lance corporal and worked as secretary for the then deputy superintendent Mr Prince.

Two years later, Gittins was again promoted, this time to corporal and she got the opportunity to pursue another training course. But even as she spoke of her upward mobility, Gittins admitted that there were “challenges” and while she did not go into detail she hinted at them sometimes being “emotional and aggressive,” and more from her female colleagues. However, she said, by that point the Constabulary was her career and there was no turning back.

When she was promoted to sergeant, a rank she remained at for another ten years, Gittins did what she called a ‘Codor’ course through the Guyana Police Force which entailed her being prepared to be a drill instructor. The various positions she held as sergeant included duty clerk and general duties and working in the investigative section. Another opportunity came for her pursue a junior all-arms ordnance course through the Guyana Defence Force which dealt with store keeping and she later became Quarter Mistress of the stores.

Gittins also pursued other qualifications and training and she was later promoted to inspector and then to assistant superintendent. She worked at the training school for a number of years and it was in 2010 that she was placed in charge of administration and was promoted to Deputy Superintendent.  She also attended the Junior Officers’ Course N0 17 at Felix Austin College.

Meanwhile, Gittins said her years in the GNS prepared her for all challenges. She added that the discipline instilled helped her to analyze herself to see her true potential.

“Being exposed to management taught me as a woman what are the challenges I would encounter when dealing with males,” she stated.

Gittins said the City Constabulary has taught her a lot including making her more sociable.

“The Constabulary has brought out the best in me. I learnt to accept criticisms as a motivating factor whether constructive or otherwise,” she said.

Having benefited so much from the Constabulary, Gittins would encourage anyone to make it a career choice. Speaking directly to women, she pointed out that with any job they choose it would be about how they respond to criticisms and how they apply themselves to their work. Two thirds of the present Constabulary members have been trained by Gittins and she said it is not so challenging as before, when ranks were expected to walk long distances to locations, while nowadays they challenge this directive if it is given.

When it was pointed out that the ranks may just be questioning the structure of the Constabulary which might not be a bad thing, Gittins responded that while that might be the case, the bad part comes when ranks are not courageous, but rather just see their jobs as a means to a salary. She lamented that she is not seeing the sort of dedication and commitment to the job as before; too many ranks, after a few years, want to leave the Constabulary for what they term as better opportunities. She usually reminds them that a ‘bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ and noted that those words were proven to be true time and time again as many had returned and requested their jobs back. Some, if they were disciplined and showed commitment, were given another chance, but others because of their attitudes were denied.

When it was pointed out that ranks probably did not like the long hours, Gittins said working hours were not long as night shifts were just six hours and day shifts were eight hours with a two-hour lunch break. However, she was quick to add that if there was a shortage of staff the lunch period decreased.

She shared that when it was time for her children to write common entrance (they are two years apart) she requested to work night for seven years straight which meant that she was at home when her children got in from school and when they awoke in the morning. She admitted that it “might not have been a good thing” but said she left them sleeping at night and returned and found them sleeping.

“Sometimes I got home at around 1 am and I would do all my work by the time they wake and when they leave for school in the day then I would sleep,” she said.

For her it just had to be done as her mother died when she was just 13 years old and all of her relatives were overseas. Gittins said she has no regrets about her life as she was always careful not to make irrational choices.

She always ensured her children maintained a relationship with their father who eventually got help and is no longer an addict. Gittins said while they have never rekindled their union, today they remain good friends. Her children are all productive adults and for that she is satisfied.

Asked about her best experience in the Constabulary, Gittins said it was working at the stone depot where she was the only woman, with 15 men most of whom were older than her at the time. She said there was never a problem and today they are all friends. As to her bad experiences, Gittins said it was dealing with other women adding that she could not understand why they were at times idle. She did not have a mother or any other female relative to support her so when she faced hurdles, she cried and then figured out ways to make things work. This meant that she was always busy and on the go.

“I am happy about life,” she concluded.

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