We are all so lucky that we live on the Isle of Wight, and for this we have to thank our police force!

We might have lost our traditional ‘beat bobbies’ but a look behind the statistics reveals that the Isle of Wight is still a relatively low-crime area.  As plans roll out for more Community Support Officers, we spoke to the Island’s “top cop”, Chief Superintendent Steph Morgan, about her role – and her plans for the future policing of her patch.

Born in Newport, Gwent, Steph Morgan says she had an average upbringing, and an ordinary State school and college path before deciding to go on to University to aim for a degree. After Uni, she took a year out before embarking on her chosen career path, the police force.

But, despite being armed with her degree, Steph chose to enter the police force at ground level, as a PC, and carried out the basic training before moving into a range of specialist areas.  Over the last 20 years she’s been involved in many aspects of policing, including the Fraud Squad, Murder Squad, Child Abuse, Crime Scene Co-ordinator, and Operations Policy Department.

However, she reckons her most exciting time was as a Detective Constable in Southsea. Why?   “It was buzzing all the time, and really exciting,” she says.  “I always had something exciting to do, and whilst in a way I miss those days, I find the job I have now comes with an immense amount of responsibility, and so it is challenging in different ways.”

Steph’s current role means that she is not just in charge of the Island’s Police force, but also responsible for maintaining good relations with Island residents. I asked her how difficult this was:

“The public perception of crime is that there is a lot more of it happening on the Island than is actually the case, and unfortunately a lot of this is sparked by the media. For instance, within the last two months on the Island there have been only 12 burglaries, no murders, three car break-ins and no assaults, which is not bad going for an Island with 160,000 residents.

“Recently I attended a meeting of elderly people and asked them how many house burglaries they think there have been over the last week. To my amazement I had cries of five, 10, 15 – where do they get this information from?  In fact there had been only one in that particular week.”

One of the main problems facing Steph is that the Island has a high percentage of elderly residents, many of whom have grown up seeing the old fashioned “bobby on the beat” patrolling without a purpose, which made them feel safe.

Said Steph:  “Unfortunately times have changed, and we can no longer afford to place bobbies on the beat to patrol without a purpose, (walking around in local communities chatting with residents).  Nowadays it is not practical to do so because of the cost. The style of crime has drastically changed in recent years and has become more sophisticated.  Placing policeman on the beat does not prevent or solve crime.  For instance, the chances of a bobby walking within a hundred yards of a house burglary whilst it is actually being committed is one in 75 years! Would local residents rather have me direct our resources to solving real crime, or placing policeman on the streets to inform tourists where they can buy an ice cream, or spend their day chatting to local shop keepers?

“It’s ironic, because if you ask the young people who are out on a Friday and Saturday night if there are enough policeman, they would say that they see too many of them, and that they are being harassed!”

“It’s a fact that the Isle of Wight has the lowest crime rate in the UK, because let’s face it, this is one of the main reasons why many of us have chosen to live here”.

So are any alternatives planned to the local bobby on the beat, patrolling in the old-fashioned way?

“Yes” says Steph, “we have started a new scheme which will deploy 43 Police Community Support Officers, with police beat managers. We already have four in place that are out and about on patrol. These support officers will be paid members of the public who have been carefully selected and trained to represent their local area”.

The scheme is funded 75{a9dddf1bd2af35332cd5613cac8e63e148b38f23ebed35c9943c32a7f65a9815} by Central Government and 25{a9dddf1bd2af35332cd5613cac8e63e148b38f23ebed35c9943c32a7f65a9815} by the local IW Council (who chose to do so, rather than being obliged to), and its aim is to effectively bridge the gap between the public and the police. Our budget will allow us to employ 49 operatives whose job will be to liaise with local residents, shopkeepers and so on, to try and highlight the troublespot areas within their local community, and then problem solve together with the police and council. This will help the police to clean up crime in problem areas faster, and it also leaves the police to concentrate more on patrolling with a purpose, ie: patrolling in areas where it is known that there is a problem.”

Another area where Steph is fighting a tough battle is the way crimes are currently recorded as laid down by government legislation. Let’ take an example: define a robbery?  Perhaps you would think of two people walking into a bank and holding up the cashier, or people walking into a petrol station armed with baseball bats and stealing the takings, or a kid of thirteen taking a mobile phone from another teenager? Well, believe it or not, all these examples are classed and logged as the same crime – robbery – or at least that’s how all these crimes have to be recorded. Another good example is ‘threat to kill’.   If two adults had a row and it got out of hand and one  threatened to kill the other, that would be classed as a ‘threat to kill’.  However if two youngsters in a school playground had a row and afterwards, one of them texts the other saying ‘I’m going to kill you’, that is also classed and recorded as ‘a threat to kill’.  This gives just some idea of the challenges Steph faces every day as Police Chief.

Everybody bemoans crime statistics, but it’s important to keep things in perspective:  says that the Island had four robberies last month, probably doesn’t mean four banks were robbed, but more likely that two handbags were snatched and two mobile phones  stolen. Having said that, Steph Morgan has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to crime, which is why she says she has chosen to police pro-actively:

“I am often in a no-win situation. I instruct my officers to go to Ryde on a Friday or Saturday night and arrest anybody who’s causing a nuisance or are too drunk to stand up, and then these arrests go on my figures as minor offences.  Whereas, if my officers left the situation to develop, then we might be arresting the same person later on that night for GBH, or even murder. My approach is to catch any potential trouble early on.  This saves us money, the local council money, and the victims all the heartache, but it does not do my crime figures much good.  Being pro-active, however, does make the Island a much safer place.”

Another area where Steph knows there is a problem is drugs.  The Island’s drug statistics might suggest that the Isle of Wight is a drugs capital of Europe, which again occurs because Step is very pro-active when it comes to drugs, and will not tolerate them:

“As a police force we are very pro-active when it comes to drug.  Only last month, we carried out a raid on 18 Island addresses, which resulted in the arrest of 17 drug dealers. Taking out drug dealers is a main priority for me – I will not tolerate them, and if high figures are the result of this action then so be it, I will not just sit back and watch it happen.”

Steph’s job really is an unenviable one, because she’s constantly doing battle with the crime statistics:  if she does her job well, then the figures will be high because she is making high numbers of arrests and being pro-active, and yet if she sits back and does nothing, the crime figures will also be high.  Some might describe it as a no-win situation for her.

A major problem seems to be a lack of public awareness of what really happens on the Island, and how the modern police force operates, so in future editions of Island Life we plan to uncover and explain what really happens on the Island, and what the crime figures really mean.

“I’m really happy that Island Life are going to give us the chance to explain things better to the public,” says Steph. “I think it will show Islanders just how safe and secure their Island really is, and it will give us a chance to explain the real reasons behind all the local gossip regarding police matters.”