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On the beat with Special Constables

Last week I was invited to join Special Constables as they walked the beat in Newquay. This blog is about what I learned as I joined them on their Friday night shift.

I am glad to have spent time with Special Constable Superintendent Kev Benny and his Special Constable team, including Sue, Kev’s wife, and newcomers to the role, Dan and Siobhan. Based in Bodmin, and covering East Cornwall, Kev’s team is a mobile force designed to augment the regular police. The team, each with full policing powers, can find themselves deployed anywhere across East Cornwall. They try to have a minimum of four Special Constables but preferably more. With Newquay short-staffed, the on-watch inspector was glad to have this team working in the Newquay area.

Special constables are volunteers and volunteering is key to the future of policing; enabling the public to play their part, while helping to cope with public sector savings. The minimum asked of a Special Constable is a commitment of 16 hours a month. Kev and his team have often offered many times that in a typical month. This level of commitment to public service is something hugely commendable, although they seek no thanks for their work.

On Friday night we spent half our time in discussion over the future, and half our time walking the streets of Newquay. I was struck by the number of times we stopped to talk to people, including those sleeping rough, all of whom knew Kev and seemed to welcome his reassuring presence on the streets.

On the beat we attended a number of minor incidents. I was particularly struck by the depressing circular nature of the treatment of one particular chronic alcoholic and drug user. The individual, whilst subject to a criminal behaviour order from the courts, was continuing to drink heavily, cause nuisance to the public and place demands on policing and the courts with very little chance of breaking out of the cycle. We have an excellent Turnaround team that address the needs of prolific offenders, but as this young man’s case illustrates, it can be a pointless circular journey within the criminal justice system. We have to find new ways of dealing with these people who need a new level of tailored support. This is a community challenge. As ever, I was much impressed by the professionalism of the Detention Sergeant and team (including the health worker) working in the cells in Newquay as I followed this same subject offender through the process of arrest and detention.

We discussed the Special Constable training program. We spoke about new aspects of computer based training and whether this gave sufficient experience to probationary special constables. We also talked about the Special Constabulary’s capacity to train newcomers to the role. The feeling was that after a large throughput of Special Constables who were subsequently selected for service in the regular police force, that a consolidation period was necessary. We also spoke about the mix of those who join the Special Constabulary to remain as volunteers as opposed to those who saw service as a stepping stone to selection for the regulars. We were concerned that if regular force recruiting was reduced in the future, we might see a decrease in the number of these Special Constables. Finally, we discussed the attractiveness of Special Constables being specifically related to their home towns without the threat of redeployment - we saw this as a good retention measure and something that the public might welcome.

We also spoke about the essential nature of Police Community Support Officers. They are the ones that now possess the intimate local knowledge of an area that is so important to the detection of harm and vulnerability. Although limited in their powers, I have learnt how committed these officers are and how important it is that we take a sensible, graduated approach in terms of skill levels in the policing of this large force area where 'boots on the ground' are also vital.

I have visited Newquay many times and have been so impressed by the way the community, working together as partners, have regained control over the nightlife of this vibrant town. I am fully aware how hard Cornwall's Community Safety partnership have worked on this issue and how successful they have been.

A most valuable experience. Thank you Kev and the team - I was very impressed indeed by your commitment. 

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