Frontline Volunteers: Working With the Police
New opportunities to volunteer with Britain’s 51 police forces are giving individuals unprecedented engagement with the frontline of public safety on a personal, forensic and judicial basis, but what exactly is a Police Service Volunteer, who can become one and what do they do?
Force by force volunteeringThe forty-three police forces in England and Wales, and the eight in Scotland, all have different roles and needs in relation to volunteering within the police. At present virtually every police force has scope for Police Support Volunteers (PSVs) and many offer opportunities for PSVs to become Special Constables. The National Policing Improvement Agency has a number of aims in relation to PSVs and their use in local policing:
- To ensure police volunteers are managed effectively, and are used to add value to, rather than replace, the work carried out by paid staff and officers.
- To increase numbers of people volunteering with police and the range of activities they undertake.
- To encourage greater engagement with the diverse communities that the police serve.
- To improve the service the police provides to the public through effective use of volunteers.
- To ensure that police volunteers are valued and recognised as an important part of the extended police family.
These aims are intended to find a balance between the roles of volunteers in adding value by supporting paid police officers and the need to create worthwhile and value-filled roles for volunteers. These aims have often been seen by police officers as being somewhat in conflict, with PSVs being given what some officers have seen as ‘easy’ tasks but the new NPIA guidelines, based on the 2010 coalition Government consultation document, Policing in the 21st Century: Re-connecting the police and the people are designed to remove both conflict and overlap in roles, so that paid officers and volunteers can both feel they are a vital part of the policing package.
Police Support VolunteersEach force has a different perspective on PSVs and shapes the volunteer role to fit with local conditions, policing needs and even seasonal variations in population or land use. However, most PSVs have administrative roles like office assistants undertaking paperwork or computer-based work like data inputting. Many have a combined admin/public role, such as serving as Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) operators or working on a police station front desk alongside a paid officer. Some undertake more street-based roles like being a Police Information Point assistant in a shopping centre or community centre.
Where an individual has specific skills or abilities, a role may be tailored for them within the wider policing budget. This may be as simple as being trained to serve as a roadside camera operative, or more specialised background training may be called on for service in photographic work, acting as a police counsellor or even providing religious support as a police chaplain. These specialist roles vary from force to force.
Special ConstablesSpecial Constables are also volunteers, almost entirely part-time, but differ from the PSVs in that they do serve as front-line officers, and have identical powers to them. All Special Constables hold the office of constable, although their grades may vary within the Special Constable structure – this frequently confuses the public! Because each Special Constabulary has its own organisational structure and a form of grading that recognises seniority and special skills, some ‘Constables’ outrank others. However, Scottish Special Constables have no grading system at all. Some Specials receive expenses and allowances (usually for uniforms and travel) and in Scotland they get a special ‘recognition award’ which can be as much as £1,000 per annum. Despite this, their hours of work, which are usually between 16 and 25 hours per week, are voluntary and unpaid.
Police CadetsSome police forces also have Volunteer Police Cadets (VPCs). The cadet branch is usually uniformed, always voluntary, and a youth organisation. The best known of the cadet services is the Metropolitan Police Services VPC which accepts volunteers aged between fourteen and nineteen from any of the London boroughs to serve as a cadet. The Met is particularly keen to integrate young people who may be vulnerable to crime or social exclusion into the cadet structure and ensures that cultural or personal background and financial circumstances do not influence the ability of a young person to serve as a VPC.
A volunteer in the VPC is given a grounding in policing skills as well as an opportunity to develop skills and hone their team-player abilities. The aim of a VPC service is to:
- Encourage practical interest in policing among young people.
- Offer training to encourage positive leadership.
- Develop the spirit of adventure and good citizenship.
- Build physical wellbeing through weekly organised activities.
Practical experience may include neighbourhood policing opportunities such as taking part in community safety events and street surveys, serving as a steward at local community activities and (with the Met) international events such as Remembrance Sunday, the London Marathon and the 2012 Olympics. Many cadets also get to visit specialist police units such as Marine Police, the Mounted Branch and Firearms and Forensic units.