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Policing Montserrat

“It’s an interesting place, but different.”

Those are the words of Chief Inspector Alex Enriles, who has recently returned from a month’s stint as acting Commissioner of the Royal Montserrat Police Force.

Not only did he have responsibility for the force’s 71 officers, but he was also the head of the Caribbean Island’s fire and ambulance services as well.

Acting Commissioner Enriles was on hand to provide cover for the force until a new Police Commissioner is appointed.

So, how does this British Overseas Territory’s police force compare to the Royal Gibraltar Police?

Alex, 43, who began his working life as a former Staff Nurse in the Gibraltar Health Authority and joined the RGP in 2006, said: “It is a British Police Force, so we talk the same language and use the same command structures. The structure is similar in the sense that they have all the ranks except Chief Inspector, so Inspectors jump to the rank of Superintendent.”

“But there are also many differences – it’s not that they aren’t busy, but the crime rate is very low. They don’t have the level of tourism that we have or the daily influx at the border.”

As for the force’s uniform – Alex said you wouldn’t recognise them as a “British Bobby.”

He explained: “Their main uniform is very military in appearance. It is very uncomfortable for the climate that they have, which has average temperatures between 28C and 32C every day.”

“It consists of very heavy black trousers, with a white stripe on the sides, khaki-coloured shirts, which are tailor made for each officer, and flat caps. They also have a thick tunic like ours for court duties and a ceremonial uniform which is military in style.”

“Whilst Acting Commissioner, I recommended a change in their standard uniform, suggesting cargo trousers and comfortable breathable shirts. That’s currently being looked at favourably by the Governor. But yeah, it’s not your typical Bobby uniform, they look completely different to what you would expect.”

A typical day for Acting Commissioner Enriles meant starting just before 8am, shortly after having a daily meeting with his senior staff to review what happened in the previous 24 hours.

He continued: “The rest of the day would be filled with meetings with the Governor, various police officers, departments or partner agencies, such as social services, Immigration, Customs, or the odd meeting with the Chief Magistrate or the High Court Judge.”

But as to what kept the Montserrat Police busy, that’s slightly different to Gibraltar. He explained: “The force deals with a lot of civil disputes. An example would be untethered animals going into other people’s properties and causing damage. There’s also a lot of people reporting disputes aired on social media such as Facebook.”
“Traffic accidents are common – surprisingly drink driving or using your mobile whilst driving is not an offence.”

And how do the various teams compare between the two forces? Alex, who is currently studying for a Masters in Leadership, said the Beats Policing team (equivalent to Response Teams in Gibraltar), are made up of five shifts of one Sergeant and three officers.

There is also a Community Police Team, a Traffic Section, Safeguarding, Criminal Investigation Department, Force Intelligence, a Digital Forensics Unit, Training, Marine Section, Firearms and HR.

However, there is no dedicated Custody Team. When someone is arrested, the Station Sergeant and an officer from the Beats Team will form a Custody Team.
Alex said: “Obviously they don’t have all the departments we have – they just haven’t got the numbers. There is no sex offender monitoring or domestic abuse team for example.”

“And they don’t work under PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act), they work under Judges’ Rules, like we used to.”

During Alex’s attachment, there was just one arrest of a person on suspicion of money laundering.

But Alex explained that it’s a small community and offences are often dealt with by a common-sense approach.

He said: “Everyone knows each other as there are only about 4,300 islanders – so a lot of people are either friends, family or well-known to each other. A lot of reports are dealt with by officers speaking to the suspects and giving words of advice.”

“There are of course some very serious investigations, mainly in Safeguarding, but on the whole, it’s a very safe place to be and the crime rate is low.”

“It reminded me of how Gibraltar was 30 or 40 years ago. People leave their cars unlocked and their windows down and nothing will get nicked. There were no reports of burglaries, thefts or violence in the sense of fights during my four weeks there. It’s generally a safe place.”

One of Alex’s main projects during his tenure in Montserrat was to write a Strategic Development Plan, which included 15 areas for improvement in the force and he was pleased to see it was subsequently approved by the Governor.

This plan was based on reviews by His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the International Police Assistance Service, the views of the former commissioner, input from officers on the force and areas that Alex had identified.

Apart from recommending a more comfortable uniform be put in place, Alex also prioritised funds to be set aside in the budget for the introduction of Captor Spray, which RGP officers use.

As for the highlight of Alex’s attachment, he said it was working with the officers day to day.

He explained: “I enjoyed getting to know them and looking at where they felt there were areas for improvement needed. Another highlight was making things happen for them and getting them the equipment and resources they need, whilst providing a steer for the force.”

Another highlight for Alex was awarding a number of Commendations to Marine and Beats Community officers for exceptional service. This followed an incident in which officers responded to a distress call at sea. They helped in the safe recovery of the vessels, their crew and passengers.

Having left the Rock for a month, the dad of three added it was difficult not seeing his family.

“But they thought it was a great opportunity for myself and my career,” he said.

“Yeah, it is difficult to be away for a month without really seeing the family, I missed them a lot. But we had Facetime every day, although there was a six-hour time difference.”

As for Montserrat itself, it was a “very interesting island” according to Alex.

He continued: “About two thirds of the island is closed off because of an exclusion zone following the eruption of a volcano. It’s not a small island, it’s 36 square miles, a lot bigger than Gibraltar – but there are only around 4,300 people, so I found that interesting.”

For background, on July 18, 1995, the island’s Soufrière Hills volcano began a two-year-long spell of eruptions. The eruption killed 19 people and forced two-thirds of the island's entire population to flee their homes and the island itself. The eruptions rendered the entire southern half of the island uninhabitable, and it is currently designated an Exclusion Zone with restricted access. As for the island’s former capital Plymouth, it was completely buried.

Alex added: “There’s lots of nature hikes and trails. It’s not your typical Caribbean Island. You don’t find the white sandy beaches, but it’s very mountainous.”

“The way I would describe it is like driving in Gibraltar’s Upper Rock all the time. Beautifully green and very lush. Almost every day we had an hour of torrential rainfall and then beautiful sunshine and temperatures above 32C.”

“But people are really friendly. Access to the island is via a plane, which is an experience – and not a cheap one!”

“There are no supermarkets, just stores and as everything is imported, shopping is very expensive. A dozen eggs would cost around £6 for example and cheese was £20.
Fruit and vegetables are delivered to the island and sell very quickly. There are no cinemas or leisure areas per se, but cricket and basketball are very big out there.”

“The people are very proud to be from Montserrat, but they are having a massive issue with retaining people on the island as the population has dropped from 12,500 in the 1990s to around 4,300 today. It appears that a lot of people end up leaving the island after they study or turn 18.”

“I was made to feel very welcome by everyone there. Even people I hadn’t met yet would wave as I drove past them as they knew who I was, which was really nice.”

“It’s an interesting place, but different. In Montserrat, I could see a lot of how Gibraltar used to be, like everyone knowing each other. They are deeply religious too, and meetings in the police station would often start with a prayer.”

“I enjoyed my month on the island and if asked, I would go back to help out if they needed me. I really felt like part of the force, they made me feel very welcome and even now I’m keeping in touch with them.”

This article was prepared by the Royal Gibraltar Police, to give insight into the work its officers do when abroad.

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