Special Constables who agree to complete a set number of shifts are being financially compensated with an allowance by Devon and Cornwall Police as the force strengthens its response to policing the coronavirus disease pandemic.
Until earlier this year, Special Constables – volunteer officers with full police powers – could only apply for expenses incurred while carrying out their duties.
Now Devon and Cornwall Police, backed by its Commissioner Alison Hernandez, has launched an extended pilot project to see the force through the depths of winter. Those who perform eight, eight-hour shifts in December and January will be eligible to apply for the allowance of £750.
Special Constables remain classified as volunteers under the scheme, but the Commissioner and Chief Constable favour a change in legislation that would enable police forces to use the Special Constabulary as a paid reserve in the same way the Army Reserve flexes to provide additional resource at times of need.
Devon and Cornwall Police receives a significant spike in calls for service during the summer tourist season when it polices significantly more people than in winter months. The force sees an 11% rise in crime in the months between April and September, a 14% rise in incidents and an 18% increase in missing people.
The force has a record of pioneering human resources projects, in recent years working with Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service to create the Community Responder role of a firefighter with Special Constable powers; it has also collaborated with other blue light services to create the Tri-Service Safety Officer for remote Cornish communities.
“We have a unique set of challenges in Devon and Cornwall, with a large remote force area which sees its population swell in the summer months,” Commissioner Hernandez said.
“Volunteers are a huge asset to our communities in helping us maintain Devon and Cornwall as one of the safest force areas in the country. This is about recognising some of the barriers to service that the Special Constabulary face and perhaps making it more attractive to those who have considered joining but who may not be in a financial position to be able to give that time for no reward. In the South West reserved firefighters and reserve soldiers are ready to step up in a time of need and provide a skilled and flexible workforce. That is what I would like to help create in policing to help us deal with a surge in summer demand.”
Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police said: “This is a moment during a pandemic when we have reflected and considered how our policing services are delivered and the vital role volunteers have within policing but also in wider public service.
‘Their role of volunteers is pivotal to policing within the peninsula and without which, many of our frontline services would not be as effective. There is a principle as an employer that volunteering is a balance between respecting that time, which is freely given, and the expectations and duties of their role.
‘In respect of the Special Constabulary, they are unique in having all of the powers of sworn full-time officers and the responsibilities that go with it, whilst also providing their services as volunteers.
‘I therefore believe this is the moment to explore the concept of enhanced allowance to Special Constables when we ask them to perform set shifts, prescribed hours and for a focused operational purpose. The allowance recognises the essential work that Specials undertake during this pandemic and acknowledges their wider contribution to policing. Dependent on the outcome of the pilot, I will be discussing with the PCC, Police Federation, Trades Unions and the Force the potential to expand this approach especially during the busy summer months. It must be noted, however, that every Special Constable has the choice whether to become part of this endeavour and that irrespective of their decision, their contribution is invaluable.”
Marc Kastner, Chief Officer Special Constabulary said: “It is great news that the Police and Crime Commissioner has acknowledged the remarkable work through the development of the enhanced allowance scheme to volunteer police officers who have been supporting their paid police colleagues since the coronavirus [disease] outbreak. The COVID-19 cars being operated by Special Constables within Devon and Cornwall will support local communities to stay safe, particularly over the winter period.”
Devon and Cornwall Police has 134 Special Constables who are eligible for the initial allowance, which will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis. The first shifts under the scheme were completed on Thursday, 10th December.
The project will be one of those funded by £60 million paid by the Home Office to police forces to help them meet the cost of policing coronavirus disease regulations.
The Devon and Cornwall pilot project follows a West Midlands Police scheme which gave a one-off allowance to each Special Constable for every 16 hours they worked over and above their normal shifts to help with the response to COVID-19.
Devon and Cornwall Police Special Constable Simon Richardson has been manning ‘COVID cars’ responding to complaints about breaches or coronavirus disease legislation. In a Special Constabulary career spanning 16 years, he says helping people who are suffering from mental health unwellness is a recurring theme.
SC Richardson is a ‘career special’ who does not plan to join the regular force.
“So much of our work revolves around helping people with mental health issues who are feeling suicidal and are unable to get help from the right agencies at the time when they need them most,” he said.
“Often it will be a 999 to the police to deal with the ‘here and now’ situation and that can take a lot of resources finding them.
‘Most recently my crew mate and I found someone who had drunk petrol, doused their car in petrol and was about to light matches when we arrived to give her that assistance. We’ve pulled people off bridges when we’ve seen them climb over. We’ve found people taking shelter under a blanket that felt they couldn’t go home because they had lost their job and didn’t know how to tell their families. Most recently I and two other colleagues pulled a female out of a river.
‘For my team in Cullompton we are fortunate to have a fantastic neighbourhood policing team who will be liaising with me all the time and will give us information so that we have a purpose and can direct our efforts when we start our shift before it develops into responding/backing up on 999 calls.
‘For us ‘career specials’ who have no intention of joining the police because we couldn’t afford the pay cut, we still treat our policing as a second job. After 16 years I still have much more to give
and do yet.
‘The most bizarre thing, which I imagine is most Special Constables’ experience, is doing a shift where something amazing has happened or where they have had an impact on someone’s life and then the next day they are in their ‘mortgage paying job’ and none of their colleagues have the faintest idea that the previous night that they may have done CPR, caught a drunk driver or dealt with a domestic violence job.
‘It’s fair to say that we couldn’t do this job
without the support of our partners who are looking after the children, doing the bedtime routine and also listening to us talk when we’ve been to a difficult job.”