It is no secret that every force is currently struggling to deal with budget cuts inflicted on them by Government. Only this week the media has been full of reports stating that we have as many as 10,000 less Police Officers on the street since this Government came to power. Forces are looking at collaboration projects with neighbouring forces, staff posts are being cut and morale is low. Forces all over are desperately looking at ways to plug the gap.
Having had a chat with a Twitter follower who is a serving Special Constable. It was clear in that chat that the demand on the Special Constable is increasing significantly and I felt the need to look into this. I uncovered some interesting things. I have found this Special Constable recruitment video that I want you to watch before I continue.
Looks and sounds interesting doesn’t it! Volunteering your spare time to support your community by putting on a uniform to protect others. I have a massive amount of respect to every Special Constable who gives their time to support policing in this way.
Special Constables like their regular counterparts have the same policing powers, wear the same uniform, carry the same equipment and operate within the same guidelines in terms of dealing with incidents. They take an Oath in front of a Magistrate and have a 24hr duty to the public, as does a regular officer. The only difference being that the Special is not paid a salary. They are paid out of pocket expenses to cover their travel etc and some may also have other benefits such as a reduction in Council Tax. The regular officer will work a shift pattern and the Special will work a minimum of 16 hours a month, although many work many more than this. I have heard of some Specials working up to 100 hours a month. Specials work when they can spare the time.
Police recruitment is now very rare, if it happens at all. A Police Officer cannot be made redundant so many forces are relying on natural shrinkage. Officers retire, transfer or leave and they are not replaced. Politicians keep saying that the “front line” is being protected. I find this claim hard to swallow when at work everyday I see less Â people out on the street. Pcso’s are being deployed to incidents that a warranted Constable should be at and on the occassions where a Special is working they are battered from pillar to post in the same way as a regular.
With a decline in regular officer numbers I was not at all surprised to learn this week that there has been a 10% increase in the recruitment of Specials. In my force area they are recruiting them aggressively ad have been holding many recruitment events with a view to increasing the numbers. The same cannot be said for regulars.
What is very clear is that the recruitment of regular Constables is now mainly done from within a forces existing Specials and Pcso’s. Performing one of these two roles is now seen by many as “the only way to get in”. Personally I can see some logic in this.
I have spoken with a number of people on the issue of the increased demand being placed on Special Constables. I am not going to start naming forces but I am hearing many similar things but one thing is for SURE and that is Specials ARE being pulled in to plug the gap left by a reduction is regular officers.
I am aware of one force that uses their Specials across a wide spectrum. The force in particular made 52 requests for Specials to work on specific shifts / operations. I will add that these requests were to cover tasks over a four month period. 52 requests is an awful lot and knowing this it is easy to see how there is more pressure being placed on the Special to fill a gap. Within the same force area operations that have always been performed by teams of regular officers have been replaced with teams of Specials who complete this task without the salary of the regulars! Whilst I am not doubting the ability of the Specials to complete the operation to the same standard as the regulars what this shows is that the Special IS being used to REPLACE the regular NOT support them.
I have also heard of Specials being asked to work on days when “there are not enough regulars working as they are short”. One force sent such an email asking to cover over a Bank Holiday when their regular counterparts were being paid DOUBLE time. Personally I think that is a complete outrage!! What an insult.
I was very pleased to speak with a Special Constabulary Commanding Officer who I shall not name. That officer told me that they have had a number of requests asking for Specials to fill in on response teams. This officer quite rightly denied these requests whilst reminding the people asking that the Special is there to SUPPORT not REPLACE. Yesterday I read a report about Avon and Somerset Police who are becoming dependant on SpecialsÂ http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Concerns-special-constables-called-line-gaps/story-16604983-detail/story.html
I know of some very very capable Specials who will book on duty and hit the road single crewed like the regulars do and will attend whatever job they are sent to. They deal with the job to the same standards as the regular would, complete all the paperwork etc without assistance and again to the high standard of the regular and will actively make as many as 5 arrests in a month. They are not frightened to say if they are asked to perform a task outside of their skill level and to be honest that is brilliant as they can work with minimal supervision ad can be left to get on with it.
The above however is quite rare and by that alot of Specials do not have that experience and ability. That was not meant to sound disrespectful and I will add by saying that the Special does not have the same length of training as the regular and for that reason it is unfair to expect them to operate to the same standards. On the job training takes longer due to the reduced number of operational policing hours worked and with constantly changing policies and procedures it is very easy for the Special to get lost.
Specials have their normal day job. recession is hitting and people are working longer hours to cover bills and other financial issues. Times are hard and I have heard of Specials who have quite simply said “stuff it” to the Special Constabulary as they do not need the extra hassle of constantly being asked to do extra. One went as far as to say that when he joined he was called a “hobby bobby”. He gave it up when the role became more of a second job than a “hobby”.
The Special Constabulary officers of the UK are by their title special people. They give up their free time to support their communities by policing. Forces are experiencing severe financial pressure and are being forced to make harsh cuts. The Government are maintaining that the “front line” is being protected although you only have to look at Twitter to hear stories that strongly contradict that claim. Specials are a very valuable tool to forces and were introduced to SUPPORT regular officers and not to REPLACE them. Specials have varied skills and ability and it is not fair that forces are putting pressure on them to cover tasks that have always been performed by their regular counterparts who have been removed due to budgets. I have a passion for policing and will always do my best to support my community. As much as it pains me to say it but I think the Specials of the UK should stick to their guns and stand firm. Do not feel under pressure to step in and if things go uncovered then maybe just maybe the Government will be forced to admit that their cuts ARE effecting the frontline.
As always thank you for reading and feel free to debate away.