Force plans for 'science of police volunteering' sees numbers of specials plummet
A pioneering force tasked with being at the “core of police reform” to make the region the “safest place in England” has lost almost half its special constables in less than a year.
Northamptonshire Police once boasted of having the highest proportion of specials in the country with plans to make them central to developing the “science of volunteering”.
But hopes of reaching a target of 900 have gone into reverse with their numbers down from 722 to 377 since May 2016 – a decrease of 48 per cent. Nationally figures have fallen by 7.3 per cent.
Police and crime commissioner (PCC) Stephen Mold said he would rather “focus on quality, not quantity”, and admitted recruitment efforts for volunteer officers have fallen.
His predecessor, Adam Simmonds, made an “ambitious” and “radical” pledge to bolster special constable numbers to 900, but after Mr Mold took over, this target appeared unrealistic.
Instead, the new PCC promised to maintain a ratio of two full-time officers to every one special constable – a target the force is all but maintaining. As of September 2016, Northamptonshire Police had 1,209 police officers, leaving the force just 30 shy of the new PCC’s target.
A report presented to Northamptonshire County Council on Thursday (April 6) revealed there has been 26 special constable resignations a month on average in the past ten months.
Reasons for that have been put down to a loss of interest or commitment, volunteers becoming a full-time officer or people unable to balance work with volunteering.
In an attempt to prevent special constables from leaving, the force intends to establish a ‘reward and recognition’ process, as well as a ‘Citizens in Policing’ awards ceremony.
Mick Stamper, head of operational policing at Northamptonshire Police, said many of the specials that have left “didn’t meet the standard” required. However, the report notes only ten volunteer officers have quit the force as a result of vetting or misconduct since June 2015.
In November 2015, Mr Simmonds spoke of putting specials at the “core of police reform” and developing the “science of police volunteering”.
His pledge of 900 special constables was part of his plans to “make Northamptonshire the safest place in England”.
This comes after Essex PCC Roger Hirst pledged to double the force’s volunteer officers from 300 to 600 to make policing “more local, visible and accessible” in September last year.
He noted that special constables usually end up “feeling not engaged or they think it is great fun and become police officers”.
In England and Wales, the number of special constables has also fallen from 16,042 at September 30, 2015 to 14,864 last year, a decrease of 7.3 per cent.
A century ago the numbers of specials were approaching ten times today’s totals. Even after the Second World War, in the late 1940s, policing reviews argued that the number of specials should not be less than half that of regulars.