Do you have any idea how daunting a prospect policing paradise is?
In 2011 I was dispatched from Exeter to my new beat on the staggeringly beautiful Isles of Scilly, where several decades previously a journalist coined the phrase "The Land that Crime Forgot". The wretched strap line got cut and paste into every brochure, features piece and blog about the islands. I invite you, at some point, to do a simple browser search about Scilly and I wager I will be proved correct. Of course he or she was very clever and I think we can all see what they did there but in doing so they neatly took out the legs of every police officer who patrolled the archipelago thereafter. I found that I could not walk down the road in uniform without some card carrying tax payer quipping "Why on earth are there police here? There can't be anything for you to do." I can assure you that blearily leaving the police station at 8 am, after a 19 hour shift, having supported a mental health patient or managed both offender and victim of a complex domestic matter, there is no limit to how wan the returned smile can be.
The journalist was only half right. Indeed on arrival, and as a brief visitor, it is bordering on incomprehensible that there can be anything that calls itself crime on Scilly. Simply uttering the word "crime" feels to be about the biggest misdemeanour that can be committed. Reported crime is indeed low. There are a host of reasons why this is so. Within a population of 2200 spread across 5 inhabited islands 28 miles out into the Atlantic. Geography and opportunity feature highly amongst these reasons. That said, there is work here for the small team of three police officers a PSCO and a Special Constable. Sometimes plenty of it because we deal with so much more than crime. In such a close community most of what we manage cannot be anonymised as it can be on mainland UK. Therefore it goes unreported in the press. Much of the time it is not possible to release even basic details about things like the very occasional sexual assault or other private incidents without, in effect, identifying and isolating the very people who need protecting. The symbiotic relationship between police and the media out here is all the more complex for that. That's not to say there is any lesser professionalism from either, but invariably the on the record conversations dance more nimbly around what, together, we can responsibly release publicly and what we cannot. Then of course there are the more pedestrian appeals from us at the police station about the dull but important stuff. The likes of "Who has all our police cones?" "There is an albino skunk loose on St Mary's" or "Stop 'borrowing' other peoples bikes". The sort of stuff that does not get column inches or air time in competitive news media.
I needed a means to break the radio silence on our endeavours, to enable me to have a conversation with pop. 2200 about policing matters that no press worth its salt would really want to touch or bother with. I also felt the need to communicate direct rather than have my words filtered or edited through the established media. It so happened that at about this time the police worldwide were just yawning and waking up to the dawning of the bright new day of social media. I had dipped my toe in the water of Twitter a couple of years before hand and found, for me, in my human suit, it had no purpose. Adopting the handle @scillysergeant and micro blogging about my work gave it an identity. It was a short hop to mounting an Isles of Scilly Police Facebook soapbox too.
It worked. The briefing medium of the islands was already Facebook so within a very short period of time I and the team here were able to broadcast our enforcement anxieties to every inhabited granite rock. The unexpected consequence of this was that the internet knows no boundaries. The superfast broadband we have here jettisoned my pleas for information on investigations, to the world. Soon I was getting banter from all points of the compass on matters like the curious case of the culprit who left a fried egg at the scene of a shed break, or lost and found goldfish. After a dogged few years of blogging there was no population on any tectonic plate that was not taking a view on the policing of Scilly. The combined numbers of followers across both platforms is currently over 65 thousand and growing. This sleepy paradise has become, for me, one hell of a busy virtual beat.
The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor will be published by Century on 16th June 2016, Hardback, £12.99