The Peelian principle that the police are the public and the public are the police remains as important now as ever. Whilst Sir Robert Peel notes that the Police are the “only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence,” we benefit tremendously from the support of our Special Constabulary.
In Kent, there is very little that they cannot train to do. Our Specials have their own rural policing team and are heavily involved in roads policing. They have accredited Detectives. They are innovating through the Joint Response Unit with the Ambulance service and embedded within our local policing teams.
I am so grateful for the tens of thousands of hours they give up freely for Kent and the difference that they are making.
We have been very fortunate that many Specials have subsequently joined Kent Police so that we retain their skills in the organisation.
However, we have seen their numbers fall nationally in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this. Some of these will be dependent upon the support each Forces gives their Special Constabulary.
Important research from UK Specials Survey shows vast discrepancies in the amount of training courses and specialisms that are available to them. In Kent, we rank highly because the long term attitude has been “why not”, rather than “why?”, including on the provision of tasers.
A thriving Special Constabulary requires strong leadership locally. There has been discrepancies in how their Specials are structured and supported, with repeated reorganisations, introduction and reintroduction of rank structures and Chief Officer support.
We cannot ignore that this is a long term trend, with numbers rising between 2010-2 and fall annually since. But many have transferred to their Forces during the Police Uplift programme creating a further fall.
Going forward, we need national action to boost our brilliant Specials. There needs to be more consistent direction given to Forces about what Specials can do, rather than what they can’t. That their options can be so different between neighbouring Police Forces is not sensible. Supporting them in this way will yield even better results for our residents.
There should be a national campaign along the same lines as the Police Uplift programme to boost our Special Constabularies to get numbers up again.
And whilst they don’t sign up for financial incentives, we should recognise their contribution and changing the rules so that Specials do not have to pay the Policing pedestrian of their council tax. Some areas have been able to do this but it should be a national scheme. It is a small but important way we can recognise their service every year.
Our Specials really are that – special. If we can work with them now, listen to their views and give them greater opportunities, we will all feel the benefit.
It’s the call I made at the joint APCC/NPCC Conference today to all PCCs and Chiefs. I’m pleased the Policing Minister backed this too.