The idea behind the Special Constabulary, the volunteer branch of the Police Family, first formed in the days of Charles II who ruled that every member of the public could be sworn in as Constables during times of public unrest. It was not until 1831 that a Parliamentary Act was introduced which was altered in 1835 and formed the basis of the Special Constabulary we know today. It allowed for the forming of Special Constables outside of times of public unrest. They were also given full powers of arrest and the same equipment as substantive Constables.
Special Constables, or Specials as they are more commonly called, provide a commendable and highly necessary service. They volunteer to Police the community receiving only expenses for travel and food and occasionally qualifying for a £1200 payment. They tend to hold down full time jobs and Police in their spare time. They are a prime example of the populace policing itself. Fully sworn Constables protecting and serving the public voluntarily. This is something you have got to admire and commend. There are now over 21,000 Specials in England and Wales and this number is rapidly increasing.
Today we are seeing the biggest restructure and changes to the Police Service of England and Wales since it was formed. It is no secret that despite the Chiefs and Politicians telling the public that front line policing will not be impacted upon by cuts to Police funding, the Police are now massively reduced. Recent press suggest in the last 3 years we have lost 16,000 Police Officers! The same number they claimed we were short of in order to adequately deal with the 2011 riots. So now it would seem we are 32,000 officers short of being able to suitably respond to similar outbreaks of public disorder! How can anybody with a smidgen of integrity and honesty state the frontline Police services will not be affected by these cuts? I don’t know how they get away with saying it but they do.
However, whilst the number of Constables drops rapidly and forces are struggling to lose even more in order to adhere to Government enforced budget cuts it seems that the Chiefs and Commissioners are beginning to realise that public pressure is increasing. People are becoming restless and starting to speak out against austerity. It was reported recently that the Government fears we could see more outbreaks of public disorder this summer. They are scared that the peasants may once again revolt.
But how the hell can the Police cope with such incidents when they are essentially 32,000 men and women down? How can they maintain the forces strength when many forces still need to lose hundreds of Officers more? We have been promised by Government and Chief Officers that our Police Officers will not be replaced by PCSOs and Specials. The 5 major forces have rejected the use of water cannon should disorder erupt. So what’s the plan?
Brace yourselves here because this will come as a shock. I am afraid we have been told lies by those in power!! I know, I know. It numbed me to the core too. I still struggle to believe it but it is true. They have deceived us.
The number of Police Constables is ever decreasing in order to adhere to budgets and so the recruitment of Specials and PCSOs has increased.
This week alone I have seen and been told about 4 forces that are driving recruitment campaign for Special Constables. Between them they want to recruit almost 2000 more Specials. I am hearing accounts from Officers that Specials are being put almost straight into specialist roles such as Roads Policing, a role which substantive Constables have to wait years to apply for. I am hearing rumours that considerations are being given to putting Specials on firearms teams, Public Order units and even training them as dog handlers*. Specials are now being used to boost numbers on Neighbourhood Police Teams and at times even outnumber Police Constables. It seems that Specials are flavour of the month and they are definitely being used to plug the holes in the thin blue line.
Now I have no problem at all with Specials. I have worked with many and some of my friends are good (or mad) enough to volunteer. I have already stated that their work is commendable. At the end of the day, it is not really having any negative impact on the public or crime fighting. They have the powers of arrest that Constables have, the numbers of Officers out patrolling the streets are increased, and they provide the much needed crime deterrent, increased visibility. On the face of it, using them to Police the streets alongside regular Officers and PCSOs is a good thing. After all, the priority is the public and so long as the service provided is not damaged then all is good.
The problem I and many serving Police Officers have is not with the Specials themselves but with the decisions made by management on the use of Specials and the decision to plug the gaps left by PC recruitment freezes with Specials. In my force, I am not sure if the same applies to other forces, Specials are not able to take statements, interview suspects or complete files so when an arrest is made it falls to a regular PC to put everything he or she may be doing aside and take over from the Special. When a Special is new to the job they are often sent out to work with a regular PC as they can not work alone if their tutor Special is not available at the same time. This puts increased burdens of tutoring and “babysitting” on the regular PC and also causes resentment when the Special can’t assist with certain aspects of the job leaving the Officer to do everything alone or when PCs who are being forced to work single crewed every other time are then told they can work double crewed so long as it is with a Special.
The decisions by Chiefs to use Special Constables in the ways which they are doing is quickly causing resentment and annoyance which will eventually bubble to the surface and cause issues amongst teams. For example, my force recently returned numerous Traffic Officers back to division and removed their permits due to budget cuts. Imagine the anger felt by those Officers when their post is then filled by a Special Constable?
I must reiterate that I have no problem with Special Constables or the idea of a volunteer arm of the Police Service but there needs to be a couple of things put in place if the future Police Service is to rely so heavily upon volunteers just like the army now rely so much on the TA’s for the same financial reasons.
- Much more training is needed for Specials PRIOR to being released on the streets.
- A national policy on the roles of Special Constables rather than allowing individual forces to decide what they can and can not do.
- There needs to be enough senior Specials to train the new recruits and work with them rather than sticking them with a PC to “babysit”.
- There needs to be much more honesty from those at the top of the chain when it comes to Policing on the cheap. They need to admit to the Constables and the public that the frontline is actually full of holes and so we need to rely on volunteers to provide the same or similar level of service.
- The assumed favouritism which seems to be given to Specials when it comes to the “donkey work”, allocation of training, allocation of vehicles and deployment on specialist units many PCs have longed to work on for years. This kind of behaviour will and already is causing resentment amongst the troops.
Policing really should not be done on the cheap but the harsh reality is that the Chiefs do not have balls to stand up to the Government and say “NO, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. WE CAN NO LONGER MAKE THESE CUTS AND CAN NOT LOSE ANY MORE OFFICERS”. They are going to do anything they must to make these budget cuts and will not risk putting their heads above the parapet to stand up for us. So just like the Armed Forces they will continue to make ill judged cuts, they will await the ability to make people redundant and use it, they will force Officers out through disciplinary procedures and they will increasingly rely on decent members of the public to volunteer as Special Constables in order to fill the empty spaces. If there is one thing which is becoming more and more obvious it is that during these tough times, staff morale does not feature on their list of priorities.
The problem will come when they realise that the Special Constabulary is not a sustainable service. They can not force Special Constables to work. They can not order them to do things the same as they can a PC. What would happen for instance if all Specials decided jointly that they were not going to work on one specific day or days? Effectively they could strike and throw the force into turmoil. They volunteer, they are not financially bound to the service and so would the Force have a hold over them when or if it came to a situation of this nature?
At a time when Police Officers are being kicked around from every direction and face uncertain times they are also seeing their PCSO colleagues being protected and “ring fenced” with some Commissioners vouching to stump up the extra cash for PCSOs which the councils are cutting and now they are seeing their specialist roles being filled by Specials and mass recruitments to boost the numbers and fill the gaps so that those in power can claim that “cuts are having no impact on frontline Policing”.
The Police Service is currently in tatters and things look set to get worse before they get better. One thing is certain, the Police Service of tomorrow will resemble nothing like the Police Service of today.
I see a multi-tier Police force with PCSOs and Specials forming the frontline, visible Neighbourhood Policing and Police Constables being the ones who respond to crime, make the arrests and deal with more serious matters. I think this is where the future of Policing is heading and I am even more convinced by the fact that this idea was denied by the Chiefs in recent times.
If you happen to be a Special then please do not take anything I have stated personally and keep up the great work. It is refreshing for us to see that there are so many decent members of our communities willing to volunteer their own time to help keep us safe. I genuinely do commend the work you all do. There is no way I could do this job voluntarily so to you all, I tip my hat. Stay Safe and remember, if you do experience animosity or even jealousy from regular PCs, it is nothing personal, simply misdirected anger.
*These rumours have not yet been 100% confirmed