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 thirteen police forces.
If it seems like it's bureaucracy gone mad, it is because of a 13th century custom when the local people – a mix of British and French as the island is actually closer to France than England – appointed 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, with a chief 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 to check licenced premises and enforce curfew times.
They also conduct the Island's own community court system for minor offences such as riding a bicycle on a footpath, spitting or urinating in public, with these so-called "Parish Hall Enquiries" most-usually handing down community service punishments – "rather than turning minor offenders into potential major criminals," as the locals explain it.
Officers are 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 regular court magistrate without a parish Centenier being in court to jointly present the charges.