Making history as Newfoundland's first Black cops
August 22, 2019
Out in the community a few weeks ago buying a sandwich, a stranger approached Jevaughn Coley saying, ‘Hello, I heard you made history and I am proud of you’.
It’s a greeting that’s becoming familiar after he and Paul Growns became the first Black officers of the 290-year-old Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC).
North America’s oldest civil police service, the RNC along with the Ontario Provincial Police and Surete du Quebec are Canada’s only provincial police organizations.
For Coley, the landmark occasion marked the end of a dream he had in Jamaica.
“I wanted to be a cop, but the environment just wasn’t right, it seemed, for me to pursue that goal,” said Coley who was born in Kingston and raised in Portland. “When I came here, I felt rejuvenated after interacting with officers and policing in this community appealed to me.”
After four years at Calabar High School, two years at Quality Academics and a year at Meadowbrook High School, Coley and his younger brother, Craig Johnson, came to Canada in the summer of 2014 to join their mother – Andrene Bailey-Johnson – who was recruited as a day care worker in St. John’s.
She was a child care worker in Cuba for nine years prior to accepting the position.
“Mom wanted a better life for her children and that’s why she went to Cuba,” said the newly minted officer. “She looked at the Canadian offer as an upgrade for herself and family and jumped at it.”
On the way to Canada’s most easterly province, Coley and his brother spent a week in Toronto with their maternal grandmother.
“That was OK, but reality quickly set in when we landed in Newfoundland that we were in a place completely different from home,” he said. “As teenagers coming from a place where there was always something to do, we were suddenly in a space where we didn’t have any friends and there wasn’t much to do. Everything was different, but we hung in there and I grew to appreciate change.”
Coley’s first job was at McDonald’s where he rose to the position of shift manager in the nearly four years he was there. In between, he completed an Office Administration program at the College of the North Atlantic and was a student intern for two months in 2017 at Cougar Helicopters Inc. before joining the RNC in December that year as an Information Management Technician.
“That civilian role helped to open the door for me to become what I wanted to be and that was a law enforcement officer serving the community,” he said.
After seven months of intense training, Coley and 26 other recruits graduated on July 20.
“That was a big day for me and my family,” he pointed out. “While training, I heard a little bit that me and Paul might be breaking history, but no one seemed to be quite sure and, to be honest, I was just focused on graduating. It was not until the end was it confirmed that we were indeed the first Blacks on the job. While that is very noteworthy and gratifying, the task ahead for me is to help make this city safe while showing other Blacks that anything is possible.”
Had there being no height requirement for British police officers back in the late 1980s, Growns might have been a bobby three decades ago.
“I always wanted to be a police officer he said, but I was quite small back in those days when they were looking for bigger gentleman,” he said. “Times have changed and I am a bigger man now.”
The wait was long, but Growns doesn’t mind.
Of the 23 years he spent with the Royal Air Force, four was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland where he met his wife of 17 years.
“I enjoyed my time in the military and I have been lucky enough to be given another chance to pursue the career I really wanted to be in,” added Growns who lived in the United Kingdom with his wife until 2013 before returning to Canada. “I am a lifelong learner and the good thing about being in the military was that I was always in education.”
He plans to complete a major in Police Studies at Memorial University.
As the oldest graduate at age 48, Growns was a mentor and father figure for some of the younger recruits, including Coley.
“Our lockers were very close and we talked about soccer and music,” Coley noted. “He also told me to be always focused on what I am doing. He was very supportive.”
An avid soccer enthusiast, Growns plays for the Duke of Duckworth in a Masters league and specializes in coaching goalkeepers at the club level.