Special constables deserting West Mercia Police, figures reveal

Special constables are deserting West Mercia Police in droves, new figures show.

The number of specials working alongside officers in Shropshire has fallen by more than half over the past decade, it has been revealed.

A similar trend has been seen in Dyfed-Powys Police as well as in forces covering Staffordshire and the West Midlands.

Home Office data shows West Mercia Police had 117 special constables in March this year – up from 110 the year before.

However, it represents a stark drop of 55 per cent compared to 2011, when there were 260.

In Powys there are currently 93 special constables, but again the number is half of what it was in 2011, when there were 186.

The Association of Special Constabulary Officers has described a significant fall in numbers across the two nations as a “huge loss” to policing.

It says employers need to do more to release their staff for special constable shifts.

More is also being expected of police carrying out volunteer shifts, leading to many deciding to pack it in completely. The special constables help alleviate the workload of regular police and their role dates back as early as 1831.

Penny Lancaster volunteers with the Metropolitan Police

Police representatives called for action to stem the exodus.

The work of the special constable has been highlighted in recent months by Rod Stewart's wife Penny Lancaster, who volunteers with the Metropolitan Police.

Her role was highlighted in a Channel Four documentary and she continues to work volunteer shifts for the force.

But, while special constables were once a familiar sight on our streets, there are now less of them around.

The officers hold the same powers as police constables and work a minimum of 16 hours a month as volunteers.

A fall in the number of specials within West Mercia Police over the decade came alongside a one per cent increase in full-time police officers, helped by a Government-backed recruitment campaign for 20,000 more officers nationally by 2023.

Across England and Wales, the number of special officers has reduced by more than half over the past decade, from 18,421 in 2011 to 9,174 this year.

During the period the number peaked at 20,343 in 2012 – following the end of a three-year national recruitment programme – but has since fallen year-on-year.

The Police Federation for England and Wales said a recent focus on recruiting more paid police officers, including some former specials, and an increase in workload for the volunteer officers were behind the demise in numbers.

Chairman John Apter said: “More and more has been expected of special constables.

“These extra pressures have caused some to leave the service, as they cannot juggle their day jobs with what is expected of them.

“We need their support, and we need more of them.”

The ASCO has called for a national recruitment campaign for more specials, claiming they provide "enormous value" to community policing, as shown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chairman David Pedrick-Friend said: “The reduction in numbers represent a huge loss to policing and we must all work together to urgently reverse this trend."

The Home Office figures show the equivalent of 429 full-time police officer roles were filled by former special constables across England and Wales in 2020-21. Of those, none were in West Mercia Police.

The National Police Chiefs' Council's five-year Special Constabulary National Strategy, published in 2018, said specials should be used to provide support to forces coping with an ever-increasing demand.

The Home Office said it was working closely with police forces to help attract, recruit and retain more special constables.

A spokesperson said: "We are hugely grateful to all those who step forward to becoming special constables – we value their professionalism, dedication and sacrifice and they play a vital role in working alongside and supporting full-time officers in frontline roles."

West Mercia Police’s Chief Superintendent Paul Moxley said: “The quality of training and the subsequent great service they deliver to our communities remains far more important than the sheer numbers on our books. It’s also encouraging to see that as we recruit more and more officers, our special constable colleagues are moving across and joining the regulars, ensuring that the transferable skills they learnt as specials can be used when they become regular officers.

“There is no doubt that like every voluntary sector across the UK, the pandemic has considerably impacted both the numbers who wished to remain as specials and our ability to recruit and train new ones.

“However, now we’re entering a more stabilised period, we will once again begin to recruit special constables from across our communities. We would really love to encourage as many people, from under-represented groups in particular, to make contact and to put themselves forward as a special constable.”

“Our Special Constable colleagues continue to regularly impress me with their unending willingness to step up, and to often put themselves in harm’s way in order to help protect the very communities within which they work and live.

“It is this volunteering spirit that I know is so important to our Special Constabulary whilst they go about helping to provide an invaluable service to the people across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire.”

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