The island of Guernsey—which is situated in the English channel between England and France—is the home of the famed Guernsey cattle and their rich, delicious dairy products, the Guernsey Lily, and the world’s first underwater arrest. In addition to the cattle and lilies, one can also see and/or harvest a certain variety of ormer (shellfish) on the shores of Guernsey, provided one follows the proper procedures.
In 1968, Mr. Kempthorne-Leigh did not observe the rules regarding ormer harvesting as he dove 12 meters (40 feet) below the surface of the ocean for his spoils. A passerby noticed this criminal activity and accordingly called the police. Guernsey Police sent Constable David Archer to take care of it; Archer suited up in scuba gear and tapped Kempthorne-Leigh on the shoulder underwater. Once they both got to the surface, Archer arrested the scoundrel, making the world a little safer for ormers.1
As of 2020, the Guernsey Police have been active for 100 years. The mandate of the duties and functions of the Island Police Force include, but are not limited to, “watching over all criminal affairs of the Island; maintenance of peace and good order in this Island; and carry[ing] out the laws and Ordinances of the Royal Court.”2
The island has seen many changes in the last 100 years. At the time of the founding of the police, there were 750 motor vehicles on Guernsey; as of today, there are approximately 43,000. The police force continued to carry out their business during World War II while the island was subject to German occupation.
In addition to changes in uniforms, headquarter location, police vehicles, and the methodology that today’s policing brings, there have been changes in the force’s demographics. The first female officer commenced duty in June 1975, and roughly one-third of the force is now female, as are five of the seven latest recruits.
One of the most recent changes the Guernsey Police and the island in general have seen was the consolidation of police, medical, fire, and coast guard dispatch services under one roof. The Joint Emergency Services Control Centre (JESCC) opened its doors in St Peter Port in March 2015. The JESCC serves the entire bailiwick of Guernsey, which includes Guernsey and the neighboring islands of Herm, Sark, and Alderney, comprising, in total, 63,000 people in an area of approximately 71 kilometers (44 square miles). Although it falls under the protection of the British Crown, Guernsey is its own sovereign with its own parliament, laws, and currency. English is predominantly spoken on Guernsey (and the other islands), although French is spoken for administration, and there are small communities that speak Portuguese, Latvian, and Polish.
St John Ambulance, which handles all medical emergency calls for the bailiwick, has been around on Guernsey nearly as long as the police force—the first recorded activity of St John on the island was in the early 1930s when one Dr. Robertson began teaching first aid courses, followed by the establishment of the Guernsey Ambulance Division.3
Because JESCC’s jurisdiction covers a few islands, St John Ambulance has a unique piece of machinery in its repository. In addition to conventional ambulances, St John also dispatches a marine ambulance. You read that right—the Flying Christine III is an ambulance boat. The Flying Christine III has been in service for 25 years as of 2019 and “is operated by volunteer boat crew from the local maritime community and medical clinicians from the emergency ambulance service. [It] is not funded by the States of Guernsey and relies entirely on charitable donations and bequests.” Using the Flying Christine III, the EMTs are capable of sending ALS services to patients on outlying islands as well as transporting them to Guernsey for more advanced care.4
The Flying Christine III and the other ambulances had a busy year in 2019—in fact, it was St John’s busiest year on record with a reported 5,658 calls, all of which passed through JESCC.
Though 5,000 medical calls is impressive, JESCC saw roughly double that number in police calls from April 2018 to May 2019. During that period, calltakers and dispatchers handled 13,196 calls for the Guernsey Police from callers needing both emergency and non-emergency services. These calls included vehicle collisions, crime reported (mostly thefts), assaults, vandalism, drunk driving, and disorderly conduct. The number of fire calls from the same period was 1,493.
“The 999 calls coming in to JESCC are answered by the control center dispatchers rather than a separate call center,” explained T/Inspector Tony Jones, JESCC control room manager. “This is as opposed to the majority of call centers that are single service who, when they receive a call, know which of their services the caller requires.”
Jones has served as a police officer for over 25 years. Initially stationed in West Midlands in England, he transferred to Guernsey in 2004 and has been there ever since. He took over management of JESCC in January 2018.
JESCC employs 24 emergency dispatchers/calltakers, four team leaders, two quality assurance officers, and one manager. Shifts are 12 hours long with six emergency dispatchers and one team leader on the floor at any given time.
According to Jones, dispatchers are kept engaged on the job by never quite knowing what’s coming down the pipe.
“We have dealt with a huge range of incidents since becoming active—from coordinating a multi-agency response to a major fire, which happened near the island’s main fuel depot, to aiding in the organization of the search operation for the plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, and anything and everything in between. To our knowledge, three dispatchers have delivered babies over the phone!”
Medical, police, fire, and coast guard calls are all handled differently, making each call unique in its own right. And because the center and emergency dispatchers are involved with all services, they have contact with the first responders as well as the caller through the duration of the call, allowing them to follow the event from start to finish. It’s a rare thing indeed for emergency dispatchers to be able to get that level of closure on any call, much less on most calls. This, Jones says, contributes to a sense of satisfaction in the emergency dispatchers who work at JESCC.
“The information flow between the services is immediate and accurate, which enables a great sense of being fully involved in the incidents,” he said. “This is a 24/7 operation, and the dispatchers do an incredible job.”
1 “Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest.” The Sarnian. 1968; Dec. 31. https://thesarnian.com/guernsey-history/guernsey-police-underwater-arrest/ (accessed Jan. 6, 2020).
2 “History of the Guernsey Police.” Guernsey Police. 2020. https://www.guernsey.police.uk/history (accessed Jan. 6, 2020).
3 “History.” St John. https://stjohn.gg/about/history (accessed Jan. 6, 2020).
4 “Flying Christine crew praised at 25th anniversary event.” St John. 2019; Dec. 5. https://stjohn.gg/news/6214 (accessed Jan. 6, 2020).