COMMENTARY: Three Police Chiefs have hailed from La Plaine

Chief Damase Philbert                       Acting Chief Lincln Corbette            Chief Matthias Lestrade

Those of us who hail from La Plaine (‘Jea Au-Vent’), the south eastern rural agricultural community which nestles between the foothills of Morne Gorverneur and the rugged Windward southern Atlantic coast, are a very proud and determined people. Many of us have left this bucolic outpost (where motorable roads arrived in 1965 and was placed on the national electric grid only in 1986) and its rolling hills and river valleys for greener pastures on distant shores. Others stayed home to help develop Dominica.

But wherever we are or how long we have been away, we all stand on the giant shoulders of Mr. Pierre Colarie along with the four dead bare-footed and shirtless peasants who were ‘cut down’ by Colonial forces on April 13th, 1893 during the La Plaine Tax riots. Colaire and his band of peasants defied and  confronted Colonial Governor Hayes Smith and Royal Marines commander Edward Bayley  on a hillside overlooking the Sari-Sari River in Case O’ Gowrie.

Mr. Colaire felt exorbitant and unfair taxes that were imposed by the Colonial Government were unfair, punitive and illegal. The Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in London commissioned an inquiry on the incident in La Plaine. In 1894 the inquiry’s findings resulted in the changing of the manner in which the Colonial government imposed and collected taxes in the colonies. It also resulted in the punishment of some of the officers involved. British Crown colony rule and governance were seriously affected and ridiculed.

We are also proud of the men who hailed from our community and have gone to be the Top cops.  Mr. Lincoln Corbette has recently joined the illustrious men with his recent appointment to the post of Acting Commissioner of Police. In 1969, the late Damase Philbert (1916- 1987) became the first native police commissioner. In 2001 Mr. Matthias Lestrade (affectionately called ‘Da-Dai’ by his family and villagers) was appointed Commissioner of Police making him the second person from our village to lead the police force.

According to an article by attorney Gabriel Christian, in 1964, Colonial Police Chief Mulligan, described the state of the Police force as deplorable. Mulligan felt that the force was mistrusted by the people especially after the tragedy of the 1963 Carnival fire which killed Eddie Martin, Eric Shillingford, George James and wounded nineteen others. The then Police chief was accused of being corrupt and therefore Mr. Damase Philbert was selected as chief to bring the change needed to ensure positive interaction between the community and the law.

During Chief Philbert’s short time at the helm he oversaw the building of a new Police force, started the onsite mechanic shop to service only police vehicles, and a better relationship began blooming with between senior police officers and their subordinates.  He also gave advice on the building of the new police headquarters on Bath Road, which was to replace the old police Station at Fort Young.

In 1971, after leading the force for seven years, the political atmosphere on the island became volatile and he eventually resigned after the House of Assembly Riot of December 16th that year. In the course of the riot, the Dominica Freedom Party Sympathizers such as Star S. Lestrade and trade unionists led by Louis “Zaboca” Benoit assaulted the House of Assembly in which the Dominica Labour Party of Premier Edward LeBlanc held a majority.

The intent of the rioters was to stop passage of the Roseau Town Council Dissolution Bill. The Roseau Town Council was then considered pro-Freedom Party and thus anti-government. The rioters surged past the police guards on duty and gained entry to the House of Assembly. It was felt by the government that Chief Philbert was negligent in not protecting the House of Assembly and that he had ignored the order to control the crowd by use of deadly force if necessary.

It was also felt that he was sympathetic to the opposition, to include being friendly to his fellow La Plaine boyhood friend Star S. Lestrade. Consequently, Chief Philbert was forced into retirement and was succeeded by Oliver Phillip of Marigot.

In 2009, Chief Matthias Lestrade retired after an illustrious career of 41 years with the Force after being selected as chief by the late PM Pierre Charles. Mr. Lestrade worked tirelessly at reforming a Force which was beginning to be highly politicized and divided. He was the commander of the SSU and saw action in Grenada during the 1983 U.S invasion.

According to Dominican Criminologist  Dr. Peter K St. Jean, “Of all the Top cops   I collaborated with to implement Community Policing on the island, Chief Lestrade was by far the most supportive.”  Chief Lestrade was certainly a Cop’s cop while at the helm due to his high professional standards, impeccable public speaking and leadership qualities. He had a calm, steady and deliberate manner with he dealt with his critics and detractors inside and outside the Force.

Like many of us who hail from La Plaine and have made some strides, our allegiance  is always with La Plainer in spite of the fact that today it is a much less close- knit  community than when we were coming up. ‘Da-Dai’ is no exception to this fact and he never forgot La Plaine and his humble beginnings.

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  1. Keith
    September 21, 2020

    @ Ibo France & Bwa-Banday.
    Actually I am sure Finn knows a lot about both Lincoln and his late dad- but lets wait- He is just probably giving him a chance then he will unleash if it’s business as usual or worst with the police. We will soon find out- won’t we? But in all fairness, give the guy a little bit of a honey-moon period – a little bit of grace time- Finn I am sure would like him to succeed enough though his political bosses may not allow him to.

    • Bwa-Banday
      September 22, 2020

      Bro…I have no doubt Corbette is a 1000000% better than the malaprop koonoomoonoo that he replaced. Like I said, I am no fan of the man now because of his past indiscretion on Salisbury. That will chap my behind forever and Salisbury will never forget I hope. Even his now deputy tried day-karlaying Bawi during the protest for their roads. So they are now handsomely rewarded on tears and blood of Bawi people.

      Lincoln is well qualified and has some traits of his dad himself a former police Sargent. I know him very well and his love for policing but his political leanings are also very well known. In just a couple weeks I have seen some positive changes in the force and I hope it continues. There are some promotions to be made especially for Sargents in the rural districts and I am hoping he will make good recommendations to the commission based on merit, not political leanings. Again, he may just win me over but I will hold my breath for now.

  2. Don Bradman
    September 21, 2020

    Lestrade compared to O.N Philip or Al-P ? To be very honest, the police force leadership took a downward spiral under the leadership of Blanchard and never recovered. The new commissioner will find his job very challenging if he tries to do his job without the interference of our political leaders. He is already much more qualified than the minister in charge of security, go figure….

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  3. look joke
    September 21, 2020

    Yet puppet, puppet, and puppet.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4
  4. September 20, 2020

    History has taught us, if we really want Change, legitimate work must be exercised by the people for the People. None violence, of course. In my opinion. Please do not misconstrued. My point! Law and order must be maintained! But the will of the massive must be adhered to.

  5. Look it.
    September 20, 2020

    Most of the time people write to impress themselves and their friends. The true heroes of La plaine were as follows:- Shorthand, Patrick, Tayor,Cliter,PK, Hasford,
    Telemark,Hogart,bougouneau and the extra ordinary EXtrado and sgt Blaize .

  6. September 20, 2020

    Wow! History? Tells us, the more things Change. The more they stay the same?

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  7. Shaka zulu
    September 20, 2020

    What i heard from men who served with distinction Philbert was a good chief. Lestrade was a coward but had a big mouth and knew how to manipulate and maneuver himself with politicians. Ask Lestrade why when he was in charge of the new SSU unit he was reluctant to going to Grenada and did he ever say he was incharge of unit but not part of it? Also did he ever complained of cramps and wanted to retreat when the fire was too hot in bush with dreds? Corbett on the other may be more crazy than lestrade and more educated but like lestrade know how to manipulate themselves to the top. I did not know there was a competition which village had more chief of police however i must observe the decline in moral in the force started with Lestrade. This current action puppet no better.

    • Amanda
      September 21, 2020

      Sounds like a bitter Constable who never got promoted because of laziness 🤣

      • Shaka zulu
        September 22, 2020

        Irrespective of whether a man remain a constable or a corporal or whatever rank attained his responsibility to uphold the law and duties to the state is no less. We get so caught up on rank and letters after name that we fail to see what matters is effective execution of duties. Integrity, honor, respect are quality i look for. Everyman in society has a role to play. Roseau would be filthy full of rats and a breeding ground for disease if there were not men to clean the streets and drains. The lawyers and doctors sure would not do. But you display the mentality sadly that keeps Dominica where it is. The sqaure peg in wrong hole society. Everyone have an important place and purpose in life and no roll is more important.

  8. Sixty four thousand per month
    September 20, 2020

    Is it this Corbette a flyweight vagrant, who must have been very weak, emaciated and hungry, proceeded to hold, put him to submission, disarm him, and took his pistol? Corbette if this ‘febo’ is you, i can’t see why you were not sent home bro for being super “Feb”… It’s shameful that you could be so weak!
    Were you hungry? Is it a farcical account Corbette? Answer me !
    And did the flyweight vagrant, emaciated and hungry, proceed to shoot himself in his butt? Wonder why the vagrant would do that to himself!
    You see folks, Dominica is a fictitious place, because nowhere else in the world, people are being told such ‘makakwe’ and ‘koshonee’ you know man!.
    And this man is a police commissioner? God help us!

  9. Bwa-Banday
    September 20, 2020

    I see very little is said of Ag. Chief Corbette in this article. Is it because you know very little of him since you migrated when he was still a little boy? He and I grew up together and his and my dad were very close friends. You should know his dad retired as a Police Sargent and was highly political (DLP Supporter) during his service which despite a good cop led to him being overlooked for promotion many times.

    I am no fan of Ag. Chief Corbette because of the Salisbury Election Incident which it is alleged he planned and led under the cover of darkness. Otherwise, he is a decent individual, though not perfect whom I still believe can reorganize the force IF he can push back on the politics and put country first. I already know of some changes (transfers, directives, community relations) that have taken place for the better.

    Like many others I am watching him closely keeping in mind he will never be our beloved Da-Dai. I wish him well!

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  10. LifeandDeath
    September 20, 2020

    Interesting article especially from a historical context and I applaud the high achievers from La Plaine and just would like to note that while each community would be proud of their own let us remember that all Dominicans can do well regardless of which village they come from.

    This is also quite a timely article given the level of apparent politicization in the Police Force today. All Dominicans must be proud of their police force but the Police must ensure that they serve without favor. That is the only way there will be trust and shared community spirit where the police is concerned in our island.

  11. Ibo France
    September 20, 2020

    This commentary is much ado about nothing. However, I wish to comment on the present state of the Police Force.

    The police are an indispensable part of any modern, well governed society. Without them the community will descend into anarchy. In fact, safety and security should be the top priority of any government. Therefore, it is imperative for the police to develop a close working relationship with the communities they serve.

    Unfortunately this is not what obtains in Dominica. The police have done everything humanly possible to alienate the vast majority of residents. They are slow to respond; promoted not on merit but political affiliation; poorly trained; demotivated; dysfunctional; conduct false arrest; bring fictitious charges before the court on innocent civilians and the list of foul deeds is extensive.

    A properly trained, well equipped, apolitical and highly disciplined Police Force can be the catalyst for good governance in Dominica.

  12. Son of a Policeman
    September 20, 2020

    Finn you have a done a credit to our sense of community and national policing history by this superb article. I see a book in you Sir. Well done island son! May the new chief not allow himself to be a puppy of the politicians in power.

  13. LaPlainer
    September 20, 2020

    Not only was Damase Philbert a boyhood friend of Star Lestrade, he was also married to Lestrade’s first cousin.

  14. din
    September 20, 2020

    My friend he is a Dominican,does that matter.

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