The heart of a crime fighter

2011-03-14 00:00

IT’S yet another crime scene in the city, and the story may or may not make the front page. As The Witness receives a tip-off that a murder has occurred, we gather the tools of the trade, simply a pen, pad and camera, and head for the action. The adrenaline pumps at times as you walk out of the office, sometimes a half-run in your step. At other times, a mild dread takes hold as you realise you are en route to witness stark human tragedy playing out in real time. As a reporter, you need to be there to extract as much information from the story as you can, to describe the events that unfolded.

Getting to a crime scene and finding that Joey Jeevan is there is half the battle won. Warrant Officer Jeevan, spokesperson for the police, attends all major crime scenes and police events and for her the discovery of a severed head in a freezer, a decaying body in the forest, a child crawling around in his or her dead mother’s blood or the opening of Parliament, are part of a day at the office.

Jeevan is conscientious in the face of hard-core tragedy as she slips between areas cordoned off with crime-scene tape.

She tells reporters gathered there the story of what happened, directing photographers and co-ordinating the dissemination of all police activities surrounding the incident.

On scene, Jeevan is animated yet measured, knowing how much information she can give out without jeopardising the investigation.

As she relates what police know of the case, she maintains an air of pure professionalism, her choice of words peppered with the correct official terms. But this belies the empathy she feels for the victims and their families.

I know this because we have shed tears together at crime scenes before, comforting each other after being overwhelmed at the pure horror of what had occurred. It is no weakness. Sometimes not to do so would be inhuman.

Jeevan is a mother of three children and wife of a police officer, himself a highly professional and tireless police member, and she is also a glamorous 40-year-old who has been bitten by the travel bug.

Like so many police officers, Jeevan’s calling to serve the country in the police force was inspired by a family member’s passion for the job.

“My grandfather, Harripersad Sukhnundan, was a policeman and as a child he was my hero. He was forthright, upstanding and a heroic figure to me. He worked in Howick and was strict, but was respected and well known. I admired that and knew from the time that I was a little girl that I would be just like him and wear the uniform.”

Jeevan is a Pietermaritzburg girl, born and bred. “Straight from school I applied to the police, but there was red tape for Indian women wanting to join the police back then. We had to get security clearances and they only took a few Indian women each year. My parents wanted me to be a teacher. That was seen as a prestigious job. I managed to get a locum job at a junior primary school and I loved it,” she beams.

In 1989, Jeevan finally got the official nod from the police and went off to police college. From there, she was posted to Mountain Rise Police Station and worked in the charge office before specialising in detective work. She did a forensic course and underwent detective training.

Jeevan’s eyes sparkle as she describes how she enjoyed that time, solving crimes and arresting criminals. “To this day, I love watching detective programmes on TV. NCIS, Law and Order and forensic programmes are my favourites.”

She then did a stint on the recruitment side of things, before one of her mentors, Henry Budhram, asked her if she was interested in joining the communications division, having picked up on personality traits that she possessed which would be apt in that department.

“I am not shy and am quite outspoken and confident. So in 1996, I started speaking at schools and to businesses, promoting and enhancing the image of the police.”

Jeevan found she loved the challenge of external communication and took to it with ease, whether it was speaking at old-age homes and giving senior citizens advice on how not to be targets of crime, or telling youngsters about the dangers of drugs. “We got the highest accolades for our Royal Show exhibitions and other projects in KZN.”

Jeevan said she slowly became involved in working with the media.

“At around the time of the Richmond violence I became more involved and cut my teeth there with the media. It was very serious and we were in the spotlight in not only the local, but national and international media too.”

Jeevan loves that no day is the same. “There’s no set format, and there is never a quiet day. It’s both challenging and exciting. Where the action is, I go.”

She says she grew up wanting to protect and wanting everyone to be safe.

“Now that is not my primary function, but there’s lots we can do to create awareness around safe environments. And that’s what drives me. It’s not just about providing information on crimes that have already happened.”

Jeevan remains committed toPietermaritzburg, saying many of the countries she has visited have their own crime problems.

“No place is crime-free. In Canada, police stand on street corners handing out needles to drug addicts.”

She believes that the media have a vital role to play in terms of informing people about the prevalence of crime, to enable them to take the necessary precautions. “It’s important for the police, the media and the community to link up and work together to help win the fight against crime. The media can also change perceptions in society.”

She feels strongly about community awareness and the right of the individual to know if crimes are being committed in their area.

As a mother of three children (16, seven and five), a safe environment is very important to Jeevan. “I’m a mum first, then a police officer, then a traveller.” Whenever she gets a break, she wants to go away. “Seeing new sights and being outdoors, are really relaxing for me.”

Jeevan is a fan of police commissioner Bheki Cele, who she says has raised morale in the force. She says he has restored their sense of significance in the community and allowed them to feel that their rights take precedence over the rights of violent criminals. “We are law enforcement officers again and we do have powers.”

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