By Isanella Patoir
In 1989, Denise Griffith made the bold decision to join the Guyana Police Force – a male-dominated institution – with just her birth certificate in hand.
She took the daring step although having not completed her secondary education and against dissuasions from a close friend who tried to convince her that the Force was not a place for women.
“Why are you joining the Police Force? Yuh gon got to sleep with [people] to get up in the Force,” the friend told Griffith.
Fast forward 32 years later, Griffith is now the only female Police Commander; she currently holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Degree in Public Management. She said it came with hard work, dedication and commitment.
“I never doubted I would have made it to this level and even higher level before I retire.
“When I joined the Force, I wanted to be the first female commissioner of police, I wanted to make a difference,” Griffith explained.
Griffith is a mother of three and a “proud” grandmother of nine. She is also expecting two more grandkids this month. During an exclusive interview with the News Room, Griffith who is from Coomacka Mines, Linden, said she came from humble beginnings.
Griffith started her career as a Constable and served in different divisions. She was later promoted to Lance Corporal and served for over 20 years as a court prosecutor and later a court superintendent; she was the Administrative Officer at the Police Training College, Deputy Police Commander and is now the Police Commander for Essequibo – Police Division 2.
“This is not the only job that I can do but this is the job I have grown to love.
“When I joined the force, I joined with my birth certificate, today I am happy, I am a holder of two degrees.”
She said she has always encouraged young recruits in the force to pursue tertiary education.
Griffith said as a young adult she was always told that she would not be hired because she had no academic certificates.
“Truth be told, I never wanted to be a police, I was in Linden with my first husband and jobs were hard.”
Maybe it was destiny or fate, but Griffith recalled that she missed the train to take her home and was approached by a young lady seeking directions to the McKenzie Police Station.
“I gave her the direction but something in me decided to ask her why she going to the police and she said: ‘Police doing recruitment today – and I said ‘I am coming’,” Griffith recalled.
She wrote the entry exam and was not surprised when she passed, but at the time she was a young mother of two toddlers – ages two and one.
In the weeks that followed, she had to make a decision to leave them to conduct her police training in Georgetown.
She was told she had three weeks to get to Georgetown.
She spent seven months undergoing rigorous police training but her excellent performance, many times outperforming her batch mates who were better qualified, motivated her to stay.
“I said okay, I can make it,” she would often reassure herself.
But the journey was not an easy one. Financial stability was probably the most challenging issue for the young mother. She explained that she had started planting and ‘burning coals’ to make ends meet.
“What motivated me was a lot of my batch mates came from different backgrounds and when I think I was that bad, there were persons in worse situations than I was then and we came out successfully,” a proud Griffith recalled.
A Police Sergeant who has since passed away encouraged Griffith to write her CXC subjects and another Police Commander sent her to do training courses and she excelled at all.
“They saw my potential in those days and encouraged me and motivated me and from year to year, I never thought of leaving.
Griffith believes it is her strength in God that has brought her so far.
Challenges were always there, but Griffith said she always found a way. She recounted that a friend told her that she would have to sleep around to make it in the Force.
“…and I recall my first salary, she asked me for a $100 and I said no because I didn’t sleep with anybody to get it.”
The youngest of her three children has followed in her footsteps and are now serving members of the Force.
Throughout her career, her family’s support has been unwavering and Griffith explained with a chuckle that when she took up the post as Police Commander for Essequibo, three of her grandchildren packed up and moved with her.
“They are very supportive, they are always behind me.”
Griffith said if she had to do it all over again, she would do it exactly the same, explaining that the Guyana Police Force is beyond just serving and protecting. She assured that there are many opportunities for women in the Force.
“I want to see more females in the Force.”