A no-nonsense officer with a love of policing
IN her own words, life could have gone one of two ways for PC Jo Carter, who was orphaned before she reached her 18th birthday.
When she was 17 her Portuguese father died suddenly from peritonitis after complications following appendicitis while they were living in Gran Canaria. Years before, when Jo was only seven, her mother had died suddenly too.
‘They were both preventable deaths, which makes it harder. When you lose both your parents, especially so young, it can go really wrong. I could have ended up going into drugs and hanging around with the wrong people but I didn’t,’ said the officer, whose 20-year career with the States police was celebrated with the presentation of a long-service medal at Government House earlier this year.
‘I look at some kids now who have both parents and good home lives and sometimes, because they are young, they don’t appreciate it. I get really annoyed by that actually. There are some people who are born into bad circumstances, or things happen in their lives that they cannot control, and that is life. But there’s no reason that if you are born in bad circumstances, or bad things happen to you, that you cannot still make something of your life.’
It is an ethos that has shaped PC Carter’s policing life since it started in 1998. After leaving a career in banking and turning away from a full-time position in the Armed Forces, despite rising through the ranks in the local Territorial Army, PC Carter entered the force as a 27-year-old. Her uncle, veteran swimmer John Liron, had been a firefighter, which sparked her interest in the emergency services.
She is perhaps most well-known for her role as the States police schools liaison officer – an official title she inherited about six years ago. However, for almost a decade before that, in her role as a community officer in St Brelade, she was a regular, familiar face in schools in the west of the Island.
Even today, in some cases almost two decades on from lecturing some young people, advising them, putting an arm around them or raising a stern eyebrow, those children who are now adults will greet the officer in the street with a friendly: ‘Hello PC Carter!’
‘There’s one girl that really sticks in my mind,’ said the officer, a mother and step-mother to five boys. ‘She started going out with this boyfriend and he was not a nice guy. She was going down the wrong path. [Her] granny rang me, and said she had heard of me and that she would like me to have a chat with her granddaughter. Granny explained that she wasn’t from my parish [that I covered] but she needed my help. I went to visit [the girl’s] mum and said to her straight: “There is no discipline here.”
‘It turned out that the girl – who had everything, a lovely home and great life – wanted to live with her boyfriend in town so one day the mum just told her to go. But we worked on it and the girl soon saw right. She went on to study in Edinburgh I think and now she has a top job in Australia and a lovely partner. I still keep in touch with her granny. It’s things like this, it’s not much, but a little nudge in the right direction.’
The 47-year-old explained that Chief Inspector Mark Coxshall gave her the official role of school liaison officer after the head teacher at Le Rocquier expressed concern about a lack of contact between the school and its parish community officer.
‘He was just about to write a complaint letter. Then I walked in the door and he said: “You’re just in time.” I had a fantastic relationship with the schools and kids out west. I saw one guy, an adult now, who I used to make pick litter up with his mates when they were hanging around St Brelade. He saw me and showed me he was carrying a carrier bag and said: “It’s for my tinnies PC Carter.”
‘My relationship with Les Quennevais was great but once I got the schools job I just said to them: “Guys, you know who I am, you’ve got my number, I have to focus on these [eastern] schools now.”
PC Carter’s role as school liaison officer was deemed so important there are now five such officers. Under the force’s new operating model the team of dedicated school liaison officers cover the Island’s 42 schools.
‘In simple terms, the schools work saves the taxpayer money if anything,’ added PC Carter. ‘If you can get to kids and stop them offending and going down the wrong path it’s the best thing to do.’
Perhaps what PC Carter is less well-known for is her job as a family liaison officer and sexual offence liaison officer – a role that involves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with families, husbands, fathers, mothers and wives at times of bereavement, or with sexual-assault survivors on their long journey through the criminal justice system.
In her words, the role of a SOLO is integral to any rape or sexual assault case. ‘It’s a balancing act between what you can tell them and what you cannot and when is the right time to say things. 'We are mainly investigator’s but also the main point of contact between the victim and the Police.’ If you say one wrong thing you can lose them, the case falls down and the perpetrator can walk away,' she said. If you say one wrong thing you can lose them, the case falls down and the perpetrator walks away,’ she said.
The date of 27 June 2016 is one PC Carter will never forget. She was taking her son to dance school when she received a phone call from a superior asking her to come into work. A small child had been run over near the Millennium Town Park.
Three-year-old Clinton Pringle, who was on holiday in the Island with his mother, Stacey, was hit by a VW van as he ran across Tunnell Street. His injuries were horrific. He was airlifted to Southampton Hospital and survived for four more days, despite doctors’ predictions. However, he eventually died surrounded by his family, including his father, Michael, who had flown from Athens to be at the bedside of his ‘lionhearted’ Celtic FC-mad son.
The driver of the VW van was later convicted of death by careless driving and was given a suspended sentence.
‘I was one of the first on the case and was with Stacey. You live it with the family, you are with them all the time,’ said PC Carter. ‘That case, more than any, affected me and I have dealt with lots. We have to do mandatory counselling yearly because of some of the things we come across in our roles as FLOs or SOLOs. There were no winners in that case. It was just tragic,’ added PC Carter, who said her work on a case where a baby only a few days old had died in a car accident also still haunts her to this day.
She said on the night after that incident she went home and sat with her then young son and just looked at him. ‘You just check if he’s okay. Those incidents you never forget,’ she said.
Away from work, PC Carter is a big fan of spinning, walking on the cliff paths and is a handy baker. She jokes, when asked about her proudest moment in her career, by saying it was winning the SOJP bake-off – judged by Jersey’s celebrity chef Shaun Rankin.
‘I was going to make a lemon drizzle cake but I’m so glad I did an orange cake that my grandma showed me how to bake,’ she said.
It’s perhaps no surprise that PC Carter says she is considering a job in schools after she retires from the force. ‘That’s a few years off yet, though,’ added the officer. But she is in no doubt that, given the chance, she would choose her police career again in a heartbeat.
Asked to describe herself, PC Carter, who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, is quick to answer, saying she is ‘enthusiastic and passionate’ – which is the reason she has not risen through the ranks.
The late States police chief Rob Bastable nudged her towards becoming a Sergeant, PC Carter says, but it wasn’t for her.
‘I love doing what I do and policing. I think the higher you get, it starts to become more like management. The money is nothing to me; it’s about doing something I love.’
In Portuguese there is a saying: Comigo não brincas – the one who does not mess around. PC Carter added: ‘I think other people would also say I am loud and that I talk a lot. I also take no... I am no nonsense is probably a better way to say it.’