There are approximately 2,841 people in the Falkland Islands and around 75 percent of the population is located in the small town of Stanley. Caribbean journalists on a weeklong tour of the Falkland Islands couldn’t help but make reference to their own homelands and what obtains in Falklands, a British Overseas Territory which is located off the coast of South America. One area that really stood out related to the issue of crime.
Most Caribbean countries are grappling with increased gun violence, drug trafficking and violent crimes, so when Caribbean media met with Falkland Islands’ Chief Police Officer Barry Mardsen, they were surprised by the information he divulged. Mardsen had actually been assigned to the police department for only six months and “loved it so much” he decided to apply for the job full time and is now on a three year contract. Like many in the Falkland Islands his responsibilities are wide ranging. He is also responsible for the prison, fire and rescue, customs and immigration and the defence force. His prime responsibility however is the police.
How busy does that particular assignment keep him? Mardsen chuckled as he admitted “operationally Falklands is not the busiest of places.” The busiest times for the island is when cruise ships come in, some of them holding more people than as present in Stanley!
“We have the capability of dealing with anything that is thrown at us. And in the history of the Royal Falklands Island Police they have dealt with virtually every type of incident, with the exception of terrorism but we don’t have the capacity, we are a very small police force.”
The police force is made up of Mardsen, only twelve full time police officers, a chief inspector, an inspector and two sergeants. There are also ten reserve police officers. It helps that the British army works closely with the police force and the chief can call on the military for help if needed.
“There generally is not need to do that and its more of a deterrent and a reserve but they can come in and we use them as reserves and they are under my authority,” said Mardsen.
The prison in Stanley has the capacity of ten people.
“The most we have had in there in recent times is six. We can take male, females and juveniles,” the chief explained.
The prison is located below the police station and at the time we spoke there were four prisoners, all serving lengthy sentences for child abuse.
Mardsen explained: “People think we only tackle child abuse and we don’t tackle anything else. The reality is we don’t have murders, burglaries. . . we don’t have extreme violence and we don’t have robberies. Not in recent times. So therefore the reason why our prison population consists of people convicted of child abuse is because we don’t see the serious offences you would see in another society.
“The reality is that very little anti-social behaviour happens in Stanley or whether it be out in Camp (places outside Stanley). There isn’t actually very much a need for us to go out of Camp because not many crimes are happening. The only times we tend to have to deploy out to Camp is when there has been a traffic collision or if there has been an incident where someone has hurt themselves.”
A country without crime? How is that even possible?
In fact the people of the Falklands Islands are so peaceful they very rarely lock their doors! We were told about a bicycle that was thought stolen and reported but it later turned out that the owner may have simply forgotten where he left it.
A survey on public confidence in the police is now at 83 percent; the highest for any UK police force.
In the 2011/2012 annual policing summary the Royal Falkland Islands Police explained that there was a drop in most of the small crimes.
“Compared to the precious 12 month period July 2011 to June 2012 saw a considerable drop in incidents being reported (down 19 %) arrests (down 10 %) and crimes reported (down 17 %). The majority of calls made are requests from the public to assist them with advice rather than reporting specific crimes or offences,” read the summary.
The Royal Police Force also has issues with false 999 calls but, wait for it, this is as a result of “accidental pressing of mobile telephones rather than a malicious act.”
The majority of crimes are minor assaults, thefts, drunk driving and criminal damage. But having a low level of crime and a small population does not mean the Royal Falklands Police is sitting pretty. Mardsen explains that there are some serious goals for the force in the next few years among them, answering 999 calls within 10 seconds and for a police officer to be on site at any urgent incident in the main town within five minutes!
Other goals include reducing overall crime, reduce or eliminate repeat incidents of anti-social behaviour and to maintain or improve the previous year’s detection rate.
The police committee all have a number of objectives “to reduce bureaucracy” and focus on the “principal role of the police service in providing an emergency service to those in need, effective reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour supported by a desire to maintain or improve the services’ excellent detection rate.”
The priorities for the chief of police in the Falkland Islands is to “engage with our communities to identify the issues that matter most to them so that we can tackle any problems through a Neighbourhood Management Policing Model.”
Would this model not also work in St Lucia? It would mean that nominated officers would focus on particular areas or themes and provide accurate information to the community so that they are aware of what’s happening in their area. Imagine the possibilities?