Army of specials to tackle big fall in police numbers

New Northamptonshire Police Special Constables pictured in May
New Northamptonshire Police Special Constables pictured in May

The number of serving police officers in Northamptonshire has fallen by 130 in the past five years.

Back in 2010 there were 1,412 warranted officers in Northamptonshire Police including all ranks from chief constable to police constable. Now, that number has dropped to 1,280.

The figures released to the Telegraph after a Freedom of Information request also show the number of PCSOs has fallen from 164 in 2010 to 124 this year.

Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds, who was elected on the back of a campaign during which he said he would provide more visible policing, has promised that numbers will not drop any further.

Although he says his budgets do not allow any increase in the number of regular officers, he says proposals for an army of 900 volunteer special constables will help him bolster community policing.

Mr Simmonds set out an ambitious plan to recruit hundreds of unpaid local people to join the force in all job areas - from PCs to firearms dog handlers. If he achieves his aim to recruit them by May 2016, Northamptonshire will have the largest special constabulary in the country.

Mr Simmonds said: “When I took over from the Police Authority in 2012 they had agreed to a further reduction of 100 officers.

“People were retiring and had been given permission to go so I agreed a reduction of 50 but said I would not let that number drop below 1,220.

“It hasn’t, and I don’t want it to go any lower.

“The force has to think differently about how we make savings of £23m over five years.

“We are taking resources from departments like HR and IT but all these functions still need to be performed so we’ve looked at collaborations with other forces and different ways of working.

“We’re one of only six forces in the country that have decided not to get rid of police officers.”

Police community support officers were introduced in 2004 to support the work of police officers and provide a visible presence on the streets – albeit with limited powers.

By 2010 there were 164 of the PCSOs across the county, but in 2014 there were just 124 left.

Part of the reason is that many were part-funded by local authorities who, after having their budgets slashed by central Government, can no longer afford them.

Mr Simmonds added: “Where PCSOs were match funded, and that money is no longer available, then the roles have to go. I respect
PCSOs and their contribution is immense but I think, if they had a choice, the public always wanted more police officers.”

In order to fulfil his pledge to provide more visible policing, Mr Simmonds has begun the process of recruiting 900 special constables by May 2016. He estimates he will have about 500 by Christmas.

In order to attract more people to the unpaid role, he has given it a major overhaul.

Now, instead of being offered beats that may be anywhere in the county, during anti-social hours, Mr Simmonds has opened up a huge range of new roles to specials.

Her said: “We’re introducing the role of parish constable, which means you can choose to police your own village or town.

“You can choose what hours you work and we are allowing parish councils to target specific areas that need them.

“If you’re an accountant you can work on our fraud team. A teacher might like to do some policing in schools. A medic might want to work in our custody suite.

“I’m not naive enough to think that it won’t be hard to recruit 900 specials. The public want more officers but there’s no more money so what do you do? You volunteer and you make a difference to your own community.

“If this works, we’ll have the biggest special constabulary in the country.”

Staffing levels over five years
2010

Total number of warranted police officers 1,412;
Number of police constables 893; PCSOs 164

2011

Total number of warranted police officers 1,351;

Number of police constables 854; PCSOs 170

2012

Total number of warranted police officers 1,289;
Number of police constables 788; PCSOs 165

2013

Total number of warranted police officers 1,319;
Number of police constables 827; PCSOs 128

2014

Total number of warranted police officers 1,280;
Number of police constables 791; PCSOs 124

Special role for volunteers

When Chief Inspector Gary Ashton first joined Northamptonshire Police as a special constable, he was just 22 and working as an accountant.

Now he is responsible for helping police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds recruit 900 specials to work in roles across the force.

He said: “When I started I did three or four evenings a week and a day at the weekend. It’s a very different role now.

“We’re a 24-hour, 365-day organisation and specials can come and go as suits their lifestyle.

“Being a special also gives people a real chance of getting a job as a full-time police officer.

“Seventeen of our last 19 PC recruits were specials.

“We’re offering lots of different training options including webinars.

“The roles on offer are wide ranging – from policing town centres to cyber crime.

“They only have to give four hours per week and they can be condensed into one end of a month, or whatever time people can give.”