Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Honorary Police and the New Age

St Helier in Jersey needs 24 honorary officers

The Constable of St Helier has said the parish still has 24 honorary police vacancies despite a recruitment drive. Constable Simon Crowcroft said half of the 52 honorary police posts were currently vacant. He said he thought the reason it was difficult to recruit to the voluntary posts was because people were more busy. The constable said they were able to fill two posts at a breakfast meeting taking the total of vacancies to 24. He said: "We didn't have a big turnout but we signed up a couple of Constables officers. "One doesn't want to overstress that we are 26 officers short, the important thing is we are looking for people interested in supporting their community and making it safer."

Constable Crowcroft said a shortage of officers put a real burden on existing ones who combine their personal and professional lives with volunteering. He said: "If we had more honorary officers we would be putting out the speed control more frequently, we could do something about dog owners allowing their dogs to foul the pavement. That kind of policing requires the honorary police but if you haven't got a full compliment of officers you can't provide a service to the parishioners."

St Helier is also looking for a Centenier, and will be fined by the Royal Court if it cannot fill the position. Constable Crowcroft said: "Every parish has to run a full compliment of Centeniers, in St Helier we need 10 and we currently have nine. "We've been to the Royal Court twice having failed to have someone nominated at a parish assembly, they have given us a third strike and your out situation. "We have a population of over 30,000 in St Helier and I think it is a reasonable expectation we can find 10 to work as an honorary officer."


Finding the time to serve in the honorary police has usually been the prerogative of single people with no family commitments or married people where the children are largely grown-up. It also requires a sympathetic employer if they are members of staff as time would be lost. Alternatively, of course, someone who is self-employed can find the time if they have other people to manage or work in their business. The current economic downturn has undoubtedly stretched resources of most businesses to the point where it is very difficult to have staff members as honorary police or for the self-employed to have the surplus staff to allow for periods of their absence.

Another factor which mitigates against the honorary police, but indirectly, is the increasing prevalence of separation and divorce. This focuses attention on the requirements of settlements which may involve selling houses and moving into rented accommodation, which again puts pressure on finances and takes away from spare time and support framework of a secure family base. Single-parent families abound, all of which demand more time. All of these factors do not of necessity remove the possibility of people serving in the honorary police, but they mean that the society in which we live is a much more fractured and less interdependent one than was the case perhaps 20 years ago. And the town area, with its bedsit land -- just observe the number of old town dwellings with multiple doorbells -- and a generally poorer population will face more difficulties than the countryside where the same changes in society have proceeded at a slightly slower pace.

There is another major change in society which is what sociologist Paul Heelas calls the "subjective turn". If one looks at prewar society, status and identity is tied up with occupation in a way so that people understood themselves in terms of their place in society, the kind of work they did, and the structure of society, which was very much underpinned by a kind of social-Christian framework. That is to say, going to church, was what people did, and there was not a large degree of critical reflection upon that. It can still be seen exemplified in an advertisement in the 1960s on television which began with the scene of a family christening and a narration which opened commenting on that.

The life events such as christenings have declined but still continue but the Sunday worship which was quite simply the thing people did has largely disappeared. The disappearance has come with a change in how people see themselves and a shift into understanding themselves more in terms of self identity rather than their place in the community at large. This is not altogether a bad change in itself, for the old order could be deeply conservative and patronising -- the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate -- as the verse from "All Things Bright and Beautiful" informs us. The loss of that verse from most hymnals demonstrates that the kind of Christian society in which it was forged, is simply not acceptable today.

But the pendulum has swung a long way. Identity is bound up with such notions as self-discovery or to use Carl Rogers phrase " self actualisation". Modern and popular forms of Christianity of a fundamentalist kind with the stress on personal salvation and " accepting Jesus as my personal saviour" have also bought in to this model albeit with a Christian gloss, far removed from the social justice of a Wilberforce or Shaftsbury. And for those for whom such Christianity is still too demanding, there are numerous New Age therapies, workshops, and "life changing" events available for the individual to find themselves. And it is very much for the individual and for the self identity that these are attractive and seductive. They also take time away from leisure time which might otherwise be spent on community matters. Because of the time that they take, and even more in the way in which the whole philosophy is antithetical to the idea of community service, we have a society in which the older forms of service such as working in charity shops or helping with scouting or helping with the honorary police, come very low on these individualising agendas.

What can be done to improve matters? One thing that might be done is to channel those who are unemployed or students who have not got a summer job into the opportunities available to helping, for example, with charity shops and community events such as the Battle of Flowers or Jersey Live etc. Not only will this give the individuals concerned more of a sense of worth, rather than being considered and demeaned as parasitical on society by the media, it will also provide an opportunity for rebuilding the sense of community spirit and planting the seeds from which may come, if nurtured well, a future pool of individuals who will be more than ready to see the honorary police as an extension of the underlying kind of work which has given them dignity, respect, and a sense of self-worth as part of the team.

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