Ahead of his retirement next year, Chief Constable Gary Roberts has said the island’s Police face a challenge to recruit new officers both on and off-island.
In the final of our four pieces into Mr Robert’s annual report, Gef looks at recruiting new officers, the increase in reports of sexual assaults and the future of community policing.
Despite the pandemic and the belief held by some that officers from the UK would be looking to move to ‘quieter’ surroundings, gov changes to Police pensions on the island have made recruitment more difficult.
Speaking to Gef, Mr Roberts said: ‘One the face of it, you’d think people would want to escape from the UK and move to a nice place, but some big changes have been made to pension arrangements in the last couple of years and that means it is less attractive to transfer into the island.
‘I was working on the basis that for every two local people we took one, we could take on one from across. But now it’s really hard to take people on from across because of the pension issue. There was complete reciprocity so you’d go from the scheme in the UK to roughly the same scheme here but the scheme here is different now so people have to work longer.’
Mr Roberts said that the Constabulary is having to change its ‘marketing’ of policing on the island and instead present the island as a better place to live and work for officers seeking a move from the UK.
Recruitment on the island remains strong for the Constabulary, but it is facing issues with retaining officers. Mr Roberts explained: ‘The issue is keeping young people and there are two bits to that. First, the job is busy and hard and it’s harder than some young people think and so they do their training, thinking “this is fantastic”’, then they’re standing outside a club and someone spits in their mouth and it’s not what they expected. And initially pay is £24,000, that’s not much money to be working a shift pattern and have people spitting at you. It’s also hard for young cops to get on the housing ladder so I think the biggest issues are the social side of it and access to housing. Police pay is good, so when you get to the top of your salary scale, you’re getting say £40,000 and that’s good, but it’s the first four or five years and they’re the hardest years and people come to me and say “you know what, it’s not for me”.
The rise in new recruits leaving is not a new trend by any means, but Mr Roberts said that while they would have expected to lose two out of 10 new recruits, they are now losing between four and six in their first two years. The Chief Constable said that he has raised the issue of pay for new officers and access to housing at a briefing to Tynwald members, but he also recognises that those same conversations are being had by teachers, doctors and nurses.
He said: ‘It is a societal issue that does need to be fixed. If developers are buying up wholesale and shoving the price up, then it’s an issue for everyone.’
The Chief Constable’s report also included the shocking statistic that sexual offences were up 15% in a year. However, looking further at the details, he says that this doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in assaults, it is also an indication that more survivors are coming forward.
Mr Roberts said: ‘More people are coming forward. Why are they coming forward? Some of it is down to word of mouth, people saying “I reported it and the cops were good” but some of it is also down to good reporting. Some of the reporting in the media about recent sexual offences has been really good because it shows that victims are coming forward, it’s going to court and they are being believed so that’s really positive. We also have the Sexual Assault Referal Centre opening this year, when they opened one in Jersey, the number of reports doubled in a year, so there was a whole latent pool of people out there who had been sexually assaulted who were not telling anyone, so I think when the SARC opens, it will lead to an increase in reports.’
The Chief Constable said that opening the centre is not only vitally important for victims, but also for the Police. He said: ‘Twice in the last month, we have flown in a specialist doctor to examine people, so that means victims come forward but then they can’t be examined and they can’t have a wash until we get the doctor in. So we get the doctor over and then he or she has to go through the Covid testing, so sitting around waiting and it’s just not a humane way to treat people. We’ve now appointed a locally based specialist and it will just make such a difference to people and then if they go to the SARC, they have access to that specialist doctor, to counsellors, to mental health workers, to the Police, it will be really good.’
While the island’s border situation remains as it is, the Chief Constable said the police haven’t yet seen a big increase in people coming to the island to reclaim debts, or indeed exact revenge for long held debts. This is hardly surprising, we can’t imagine many drug gangs filling in a Landing Form for a ‘business trip’. But he said there has been an increase in people contacting the Police over drug debts who are fearful of the, largely Merseyside based, gangs.
He said: ‘We can see some people, including some really young people, who have really substantial drug debts, massive amounts of debt, even six figure sums some of them. And they’re genuinely afraid of what might happen to them and that’s a terrible thing, it’s hanging over them. So part of the work we’re focussing on at the ports is to pick up people who might travel through.’ The Police did stop two cars on the first week of checks, but as these are cases that have yet to progress through the courts, he is unable to say much more about these.
A large part of the efforts of the police is done in collaboration with its colleagues in Merseyside and Lancashire, which while it goes unseen by many, the Manx Constabulary has strong links with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit which is based in Liverpool and is a joint effort with the surrounding forces in the region.
One of the major standout crimes in the annual report was a $22m fraud involving Bitcoin when an Isle of Man based company was defrauded of over $22m of the cryptocurrency via a cloned website. Criminals accessed bitcoin wallets and moved and split the contents. There were thousands of victims but the Constabulary worked with partners from the UK and Europe to retrieve the stolen bitcoins and locate the offenders.
Mr Roberts said of the rise of this type of crime: ‘It’s a new world, so it stretches us but by having links with partners elsewhere, who have got the expertise that we can’t afford to have. So on that one, we linked in with the National Crime Agency and we got the Bitcoin back. It’s funny actually because the FBI claimed a few weeks ago that they were the first police service to do that, we beat them to it by months but didn’t make a fuss.
‘So it is quite an interesting one, but if you look at offending, it is changing and while there is more violence now, there is still less than there was 20 years ago and there’s a low level of burglary. Where the changes are coming is in drugs and cybercrime.’
Looking back to when Mr Roberts took over as Chief Constable, it came at a time when the island’s police force suffered severe cuts to its budget and saw it forced to close a number of stations around the island. At the time, Mr Roberts said it would impact community policing and could lead to a rise in anti-social behaviour, unfortunately, he was proved right.
However, he said that there is progress being made at the local level which is seeing improvements for not only the community but his officers. Mr Roberts said: ‘There is some really good stuff happening at the local level. But, every time we lose a young cop because they can’t afford to live properly or don’t like the job, that has an impact on staffing levels but we’re trying to protect the numbers of specialist officers in the neighbourhoods and they’re doing some really good stuff. That work ranges from spotting victims of domestic abuse and getting in early and supporting them to spotting some of the people who are being defrauded and getting to know them and protecting them and we’re just revisiting and redesigning how we do our schools work.
‘What I would like [going forward] is for the whole of public service to be in one place. So in Peel, if you had health workers, social workers, youth workers and the Police all in one place and they were able to exchange information, it would make the place safer and you’d spot victims of domestic abuse or kids who were just about to go off the rails, you’d spot it and that’s how I’d like it, the public service altogether in small, accessible places.’