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Don't make the specials, too special.

The Special Constabulary is facing a period of opportunity that is unprecedented in their history. We are now a group of trained, professional, and respected officers that are being welcomed deeper into the police family. In recent years police resourcing managers have built strong relationships with their teams of specials meaning they are being called on more and more for higher profile and challenging policing roles than they once may have been given. We have responded to this by proving our worth. A Local Policing Unit commander i worked with said of his team of specials "Once upon time specials were the icing on the cake. Now we couldn't deliver the high quality service without them". 

One of our Special Chief Officers.
Plan for both career specials,
and 'on the hop' specials
This was just the tip of the iceberg, and the cuts climate is putting more and more pressure on forces, and they are looking to their respective Special Constabularies to step up. This opens a lot of doors for specials. However with those open doors comes a lot of risks.

'Policing on the cheap' has been a criticism levels at police forces with the introduction of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Opinion on PCSOs is still divided amongst my colleagues, but in terms of public satisfaction they have been a success. They have been a success because a lot of work has been done to define the role and responsibilities and to make sure PCSOs are supporting, rather than replacing, front line officers. This is fairly simple to do with PCSOs as they don't have the powers of a Constable. Specials do have these powers, they hold the office of constable in the same way as their regular paid colleagues. The need to make better use of specials is an imminent one, but it should not be rushed at the expense of proper negotiations with the Police Federation. Without proper negotiations, there risks a front-line fractured relationship between specials and regulars which will negate any developments made at management level.

Training. The biggest problem for specials is training. Both quantity and quality are badly neglected. Quantity is difficult to improve upon due to the nature of the special constabulary. However there is no excuse for quality. For years forces have faffed with different training schemes for specials. The NPIA's involvement in the training of specials should improve things, but currently its just adding an unnecessary administrative burden.

In theory the accredited patrol status (APS) that all specials work towards is invaluable in helping regular officers understand our level of training. It can take between 12 months and 2 years to gain this status. The difficulty comes in deploying the non-APS officers. These officers can present a resourcing problem rather than a resourcing solution. This is not always the fault of the officers, it is the fault of the system the force uses. Either the paperwork is excessive, or the scheduling of training courses or assessments is so infrequent that good quality officers are being held back. Making specials part of the solution will come from a pre APS system that encourages rather than holds back.

Forces are thankfully taking special
constabulary recruitment more seriously
Deployment. Specials should be, by Home Office direction, working as part of a neighbourhood team. Working with a neighbourhood team might look nice on paper, but it reduces the quality of the specials, reduces their usefulness, and decimates morale. Allow me to explain why.

Specials are most useful when they are dealing with acute problems. They might be working as part of a response shift, standing on the streets on a Friday and Saturday night, or patrolling a pre-planned event. During these types of shift a new special will learn essential policing skills very quickly because there will be plenty of encouragement, opportunity and expectation that they will get stuck in. Neighbourhood teams deal with chronic problems. These might be the negotiations between rowing neighbours, liaising with schools, colleges and universities, and dealing with 'slow time' enquires and investigations. These sorts of activities require the building of relationships and continuity, something that is not always easy for a special due to the sporadic nature of their duties. For a special working with neighbourhood teams this means a lot of sitting around while other officers do paperwork, do telephone enquiries, take statements or other such things. This reduces the quality and quantity of training the attached special gets. My advice is, remove any national limitations on the deployment of specials, it should be for the force to decide. More opportunities for experience leads to higher morale, which in turn leads to more productive, useful, and highly trained specials. These specials will be much easier to deploy in areas where budget reductions are being made.

A Special Constable
Expenses. There have been persistent rumours about specials losing expenses all together. Currently we get reimbursed for our travel expenses. Some police forces offer a small 'meal allowance', the amounts vary but from experience it is no more than £20 for a 12+ hour shift. The cutting of special expenses has got to be tempting. Senior Management knows that specials don't do the job for the money, and those people who give the most hours will continue to do the hours even if their expenses are cut. If someone is going to be a reliable and committed special, they will be the type of person who will still do the job even if they find themselves out of pocket. However any removal of specials expenses will have an effect on retention and advancement. Rather than reducing expenses, forces should increase them and/or offer a meal allowance. It may increase the number of hours slightly, but more so it will be a way of recognising the work specials do, and offering a small amount of money so that specials can eat and drink at the expense of the force while on duty. This may not be something available to regular officers, but remember that regular officers get paid a decent wage...specials are volunteers.

A regular officer

So what makes me qualified to write about this? I have been a Special since i was 19. At 25 i have had the honour to serve in two forces and learn from their successes and from their failures. My advice to Chief Constables...invest in your specials and they will repay you with their commitment and loyalty.

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Tweets in response
thanks to my followers for their contributions

Clive Chamberlain
@dietjustice Biggest insult was forcibly retiring officers through A19 process then writing to ask if they want to come back & work for free

Will Tanner
@dietjustice Great blog mate, enjoyed it a lot, rightly highlighting great work specials do. Thames Valley have been doing lots in this area