Is it time for an Islander to hold the post of police chief?
IT’S high time for a born and bred Islander to fill the shoes of the States police chief according to the former Victoria College student who is in the running to be Britain’s youngest police chief.
Then aged 39, acting deputy chief officer James Wileman was thrust into the role ten months ago following the death of chief officer Rob Bastable and Julian Blazeby’s departure to take up a director general role in the civil service. Mr Wileman is now hoping to get the top job full-time after an international recruitment drive began last week.
Mr Wileman, currently the Island’s most senior officer, says it has been a ‘steep learning curve’ at a challenging time for the force.
According to the acting deputy chief and other senior staff at the force, they are up to 35 officers short of an acceptable level to police Jersey effectively. A funding bid for recruitment has been lodged by the Home Affairs Minister and a decision on that is due to be announced when the Government Plan is released tomorrow.
At last count, the States police employed 191 officers, down from almost 240 in 2014. That equates to about 1.78 officers per 1,000 people – the lowest police-to-public ratio when compared to England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Guernsey.
There is now only one dedicated town centre officer – noticeable by a white helmet as part of their uniform – as opposed to five previously.
‘They all work their socks off, I cannot praise them enough but myself and the senior management team feel 226 is the number we should have,’ he said.
Speaking about the vacant police chief role, Mr Wileman said he completed a three-month strategic command training programme in the UK last year and was therefore qualified for the top job.
Mr Wileman was at one point the third youngest superintendent in Britain and he believes should he become chief he would be the youngest in the British Isles.
‘I want the job and I feel very strongly about it,’ the 40-year-old said. ‘I have been lucky to lead this force now for ten months at a time which has been challenging. The reason I want the job is this – I feel the time is right to have a local person in a senior position and I feel I owe it to the force. I want to go on to deliver what I have started. Why would I not put my hat in the ring?’
Bob Le Breton, who retired from the force in 2000 and died in 2012, was the last Jersey-born police chief.
Mr Wileman added: ‘The police in Jersey has been in a really challenging place for the last two years. We have had to have some pretty tough conversations with ourselves about morale.’
A Jersey Police Association survey earlier this year found that 63% of officers surveyed would not recommend the job to a friend and 22% planned to leave the job within a year.
Project Horizon, a police plan to plough resources into community policing at the expense of response elements of the force in an effort to save cash, was paused earlier this year after less than a year in place. It was introduced by Mr Blazeby.
Mr Wileman said due to shortages of officers, community-allocated police officers were having to be pulled onto response duties, meaning their shift patterns were being altered at the last minute.
‘The logic behind Horizon was sound, put more officers on community policing to stop issues upstream and prevent crime down the line. That is why it has been paused and not stopped.
‘What was not acceptable to me was, because of staffing levels, the level of short notice on shift patterns. Police officers should expect a certain amount of spontaneity but they should be able to tell, within reason, when they are working tomorrow, next week and within the next month. I am lucky that my shift patterns are pretty set so when you’re telling a cop they need to come in tomorrow at the last minute, that doesn’t feel right.’
If he gets the role, Mr Wileman said he would like to continue to see investment in technology, further breakdown the barriers between the police and minority groups, and improve wellbeing care for staff.
‘As police, we see the darker side of life and officers are not immune to that. They are human and have foibles and frailties too.’