Northamptonshire’s most senior policeman says he hopes special constables can play a central role in making the county a safer place to live.
Chief Constable Adrian Lee told the Northants Telegraph he wanted his force to have the largest per head number of specials – voluntary police officers – in the country.
Northants Police is currently engaged in a high-profile drive to recruit hundreds more specials. The force currently has just over 350 on its books, and hopes to get to 500 by the end of this year and 900 by 2016.
Mr Lee said recruiting more special constables was not simply policing on the cheap, saying more boots on the ground would engender more public confidence in the force. He added: “It’s about visible policing, reassuring the public that policing presence is strong.”
He also pointed to praise for the police in a recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into measures taken to cope with budget cuts from central Government. The force’s “ambitious recruitment programme for specials” was highlighted for particular HMIC praise.
Mr Lee said he was pleased with those findings, and added that changing what recruits were offered – including a variety of roles within the force – was a key factor in increasing their number.
He said: “The three main areas for specials are general duties – crime, anti-social behaviour, night-time economy – that’s the work specials have done for years.
“We also want people to become parish special constables, to work where they live and contribute to the feeling of safety in the parish. People who have done Homewatch might want to be involved.
“The third area is inviting people to join the special constabulary trained to work in prisoner investigation.”
He said there needed to be a much better fit between the needs of the police and of specials, adding: “Before, we said, ‘This is what you have to do’, and some people said they didn’t want to do that.”
Police figures suggest more flexibility for volunteers has already borne fruit. Specials must give 16 hours a month, but the average Northamptonshire special provides 25 hours of service each month.
Mr Lee said: “We are getting a better return on our investment. This is a time when money for policing has been reduced, so let’s use this as an excuse to get more people involved.
“The objective is to provide a better service to the people of the county. We encourage people to come forward to recognise our offer to them is better. I do believe we are making a really good offer, something that’s interesting and worthwhile.”
He also insisted the drop-out rate remains low, but said those who did leave and later wanted to return could negotiate at what level they could rejoin, rather than necessarily starting again from scratch.
“There will always be people who have to stop for all sorts of reasons. If you feel you have to stop for a period the door is always open for you. We are saying when you leave and come back we will decide with you at what stage you can return. All these are signs we recognise we need to change what we offer.
“I think it’s a win-win. I want specials to enjoy it and find it exciting and challenging. If they do they will keep on coming back. We want to attract people who care about their communities and want to make a contribution.”
How our specials contribute to policing in Northamptonshire
Specials in Northamptonshire put in 60,013 working hours between January 1 and the start of August – already a marked increase on the equivalent total last year.
In 2013, a total of 70,554 hours were contributed and in 2012 it was 42,153.
The force estimates special constables are on track to contribute well over 100,000 hours to Northamptonshire Police by the end of 2014.
If the force is successful in meeting its target of having 900 special constables on its books by 2016 – and the monthly average of 25 hours contributed by each recruit is maintained – it would mean that specials would be contributing more than 250,000 working hours a year to the force.
On the beat, police figures show special constables have had a significant impact.
In the first seven months of this year they made 509 arrests, recorded 787 crimes and undertaken 451 alcohol seizures.
The force is keen to add to these numbers and has encouraged anyone who is interested in becoming a special to find out more information by visiting tinyurl.com/SpecialConstabulary.
The website also includes a booking form for upcoming specials application events. The next one takes place on Monday, August 18, at the East Northants Council Chamber in Thrapston. Book by Friday, August 15.