IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the British Crown Dependency of Jersey in the English Channel has a population of 95,000 – and an amazing thirteen police forces.
It's because of a custom that goes back to the 13th century when the local people – a mix of British and French as the island is actually closer to France than England – first began appointing a voluntary Vingtenier (from the French vingt for twenty) to look after the safety of every twenty local households.
As the population grew and people were grouped into an eventual twelve parishes, each parish continued to appoint a growing number of Vingteniers who were given differing ranks from Constables-Officers up to their chief who is known as a Centenier.
Today each of the twelve parishes elects its own required number of these still-voluntary police for a period of three years to work on foot and mobile patrols, carry out speed checks, help with crowd control at major events, assist with missing persons enquiries, and are responsible for checking licenced premises and enforcing curfew times.
They are usually required to be on-call 24-hours a day for voluntary work one week a month, and even the thirteenth police force, the official States of Jersey Police consisting of 240 officers, cannot put a person before a magistrate without a parish Centenier being in court to jointly present the charges.