I read an article in the Telegraph yesterday about the use of volunteers and special constables to make up for shortfalls in police officer numbers.
It got me thinking…
Generally in life you get what you pay for. This notion that special constables and volunteers can fill the gap left by falling numbers of regular officers, is complete nonsense.
Don’t misunderstand me. I think specials are great and I work with plenty who are enthusiastic, committed and genuine. I admire their motivation to do the job for free! I know many excellent officers who started out as specials. Being a special is also a good introduction to policing and a chance to gain some insight before launching into a unique and demanding vocation. It’s not for everyone!
However, you cannot make up for lack of police numbers with specials. The government are sending out a mixed message and contradicting their own policies. (Hard to believe, I know!). They roll out their illogical and tiresome “more for less” mantra, whilst simultaneously pushing recruitment of specials and volunteers to make up numbers. This is policing on the cheap because they know that a drop in police numbers will affect crime rates. Don’t be fooled by massaged crime statistics. Tom Winsor et al want a “more professional police service ” – a proposal completely undermined by having a greater number of part- time police. What he will get is a semi-professional police service .
I am a full-time, regular Police Constable, as are most of my colleagues. When I joined the police I received 2 years of training, both at training school and in the “real world”. I was confirmed in the Office of Constable after successfully completing this probation period and showing I had the necessary skills and experience. There are no substitutes or shortcuts that can be used to achieve this. I can’t comment on the specifics of each force’s special’s training programme, but I know that it will be nowhere near the level of a regular officer. In addition, Most of the learning process happens on the street, and doing 2 or 3 shifts a month will not develop skills and experience. I sometimes compare it with other professions: If you go to the hospital, you want to be seen by someone fully qualified and experienced. You don’t want a nurse that’s had 6 weeks training and works 4 days a month! I know that’s not a completely fair comparison, but it highlights the point!
The special constabulary is not a flexible workforce as most also have full time jobs. They cannot be mobilised and utilised in the same way as police officers and require a great deal more supervision, guidance and flexibility. In my experience, a special working alongside a regular officer will often hinder more than help, due to inexperience and lack of training. This is no fault of the officer, that’s just how it is!
As I’ve already said, I am not criticising specials. We need them to perform an important role, and the police service would be much poorer without them. My criticism is reserved for those that suggest we can cover over the cracks in police resilience with short-sighted, bargain-basement concepts.
Public safety is too important to be entrusted to an under- funded, inexperienced, part time police service.
Public safety is too important to be done on the cheap.
Public safety is too important to be left to political whim.
Courtesy of PC Bobby McPeel