Honorary police recruitment crisis

THERE is a serious shortage of honorary police officers in several parishes as the volunteer forces battle to overcome ‘misconceptions’ and ‘stigma’ about the historic role.

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In the six parishes worst affected by the recruitment crisis almost half of the posts are vacant with a total of 67 unfilled. Between them, the parish forces should have 152 officers. Some forces have warned that they are now struggling to police community events as they would like to and have done for generations.

Today the Attorney General, the Island’s most senior prosecutor and the titular head of the honorary police, has issued a call to encourage Islanders, of all nationalities, to step up and give their time to an institution which has been a ‘pillar’ of Island life for hundreds of years.

Numbers are 50% below usual operational levels in St Brelade, meaning the force has had to stop patrols on certain nights. Numbers are similarly low in St Peter, St Martin and St Saviour – the Island’s second-most populated parish – while St Lawrence is operating with just more than 30% of its required level of officers.

In Grouville, honorary numbers are expected to be down to below 50% of full strength by the end of the year. The force is struggling to police traffic at public events such as weddings and funerals and the parish hall has been ‘inundated’ with frustrated phone calls.

Peer pressure from friends and colleagues, concerns about volunteering hours and a lack of a community spirit in some parishes and few young people stepping up were among reasons listed for a lack of volunteers.

Chairman of the Comité des Chefs de Police Centenier Danny Scaife said he worried for the future of the force.

‘Of course there are concerns. If you do not get people in to replace people when they retire of course there are going to be problems and that is a major concern for the future,’ he said.

Age-targeted marketing campaigns are being planned.

Grouville Chef de Police Nick Andrews added: ‘Our serving officers are getting long in the tooth and the young people aren’t coming through. We cannot police weddings and funerals, which causes traffic problems and our parish hall has been inundated with calls.’

It is a legal requirement for parishes to fill their honorary police vacancies. St Saviour was fined £5,000 for failing to fill its quota of Centeniers in 2015. It received another warning last year.

Attorney General Robert MacRae said he was grateful to officers who already give up their time but urged more people to volunteer.

He added: ‘I would encourage anyone with an interest in serving their parish and the community to look at the election criteria online and to discuss serving as a member of the honorary police with an existing member or their parish Connétable.’

Paulo Martins, acting Chef de Police for St Saviour, said there remained a ‘stigma’ about the role.

He added: ‘We are at 50% – we need 16 more officers, I would say. It’s difficult. People still say the same thing – hobby bobbies – we need to tell people about what we do.’

Michel Bougeard, Chef de Police for St Brelade, said one parishioner who was recently interested in joining pulled out at the eleventh hour after telling their work colleagues of their intention to join up.

‘What they said put the gentleman off. That should just not be the case,’ he said. ‘There is unfortunately a stigma to joining.’

He added: ‘There are times when, because of numbers, we cannot put on any patrols at all. And as I was once told you don’t know how much crime you are stopping by just being visible.

‘I think there is a misconception that you need to give a lot more hours than you actually do.’

The States police budget has been slashed by over £1.2 million since 2016 and its number of officers cut by around 20% over the past decade from 245 to 198. Last week, St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft called for more officers on the streets to ensure Islanders feel safe. But Home Affairs Minister Len Norman said the reliance on the honorary police was not any greater, despite fewer States police officers.

Paul Gaudin, Chef de Police for St Martin, said he felt stigma was not an issue for would-be new recruits but added that a lack of ‘community spirit’ was the reason behind low numbers.

In St Helier, Centenier Scaife said his team was 19 officers below its peak level of 53 but the force was ‘comfortable’ with current numbers.

Forces in St Mary and Trinity reported being down ‘two or three officers’ while the Chef de Police for St Ouen said there were no issues with recruitment. In St Clement, the parish was two honorary officers short of its quota (22) and in St John the force was four below its level of 19.

The problem parishes:

St Brelade: Quota, 32 officers. Currently, 16 officers.

St Peter: 26, 17

St Martin: 21, 12

St Saviour: 32, 20

St Lawrence: 22, 8

Grouville: 19, 12 (8 by the end of the year)

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