PILMAR Powell is a no-nonsense and often misunderstood individual when it comes to her work, which looks to the safety and security of Jamaicans.
A detective inspector of police and sub-officer in charge of the Counter-Terrorism Special Investigation Unit, which falls under the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Powell also has a love for children,which has led her to always seek avenues to protect them.
Born and raised in Kingston, Powell told All Woman that her younger years saw her, a tomboy, being raised, alongside her brother Ethan, by a single mother.
At Meadowbrook High she came into her own, assuming the role of Saunders House captain and cheerleader. In addition, she said her high school experience allowed her to truly be a child, and from there on she developed a love and weakness for children, especially babies.
Following Meadowbrook, Powell went to Excelsior Community College to continue her studies, then took a job as a basic school teacher. While at the basic school, an encounter with a group of police officers from the then Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) left a positive impression on Powell and her entire outlook on life changed.
“I was in my early 20s and meeting those officers changed the total unit of my ambition and in 1995 I became a member of the ISCF,” she said.
Now more focused and career-oriented, Powell was eager to make a difference and after graduation she expressed her desire to work with the Family Court or at the Police Academy as an instructor as her experience from being a basic school teacher was still ingrained and she also wanted to continue working with children.
“I got the best of both worlds. I was assigned to Kingston Central and that’s where the Family Court comes under. There I came under good tutelage. About a year after, I was called to the Police Academy from 1996 to 1998 as a classroom instructor but I did drills as well,” Powell shared.
However, in 1998, the opportunity for a change came, and according to Powell, most of her special constable colleagues, including herself, seized the moment. This switch to the regular force saw Powell being assigned to the St Andrew Central Division before being drafted to the Half-Way-Tree Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) of the JCF.
Here would be Powell’s true baptism of fire, and she experienced first-hand the dark underbelly of crime against the children she was so passionate about.
“It was a university for me, a different type of policing. There I garnered my investigative skills and had some really good mentors. At one point I was the only female detective in the branch doing most of the sexual abuse matters. That really hurt me and brought home the reality from being a basic school teacher to now seeing abuse on our young girls and I knew I needed to do more,” she said.
But in 2004 Powell was drafted by the high command to be transferred to the Narcotics Division and though a different type of investigation was required, she pointed out that her days at CIB made it much easier.
In 2010 Powell was again transferred, this time to the Organised Crime Investigation Division (OCID), now C-TOC. It was here that Powell, a staunch Christian, began a community service initiative to help children and formulated training programmes that would improve the quality of investigations done by the branch.
“During that time I went and did a diploma in paralegal studies and then I started a children’s group called Project Joy. I said to myself, if we are going to evangelise to children and people we must understand the word of God, so I did a leadership course at the Church of God of Prophecy, Old Harbour Road. After that I was introduced to a social and professional transformational programme which is a bachelor’s degree at the Jamaica Theological Seminary. I saw this as a good way to go as it opened an avenue I never looked at before — one of a transformational leader. It gave me the necessary tools to put together training and development and enhance the quality of persons serving and their lifestyle,” Powell said.
She said while at OCID the then Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington made a suggestion to have a special investigation unit at OCID that would deal with intense and complex crimes.
“The then commanding officer, now Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Chambers, asked me to lead the team. I got a team of probationers just leaving the Police Academy along with police personnel who have never done investigations. I was working overtime and I said no, I alone can’t do this, and so I sat at work and put together an investigative training called the Special Investigation Training Programme Proposal in December 2013.”
The proposal was accepted by Ellington and resulted in a nine-month training course dealing with advanced investigative techniques for intense and complex crimes.
In 2015, after OCID and the Flying Squad merged to form C-TOC, Powell once more used her transformational leadership training to pen the first strategic counterterrorism management training proposal which was facilitated by the Caribbean Maritime University over a one-year period from April 2017 to 2018. This training also saw other government and national security agencies participating. This saw Powell being featured in the William J Perry Centre for Hemispheric Defense Studies Alumni Spotlights Magazine.
Powell maintains that the fight against terrorism is everyone’s business. She acknowledged her mentors Devon Watkis and head of C-TOC Assistant Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey for their guidance in her career over the years and contended that any issue that has to do with the safety and security of her country, she will stand for it.
Nowadays Powell spends most of her downtime with family, her prayer group, or on her farm in St Elizabeth looking about her produce which includes plantain, pumpkin, sweet potato and sorrel.
She cherishes the support of her children and family and lives by the daily mantra that the breath of life is a gift from God, and people should be assets, not liabilities.
By: Kimberley Hibbert