Number of special constables in region drops by half in one decade

The number of special constables working with police in the West Midlands and Staffordshire has fallen by more than half in a decade.

Increases in workloads have made it impossible for some of the officers in England and Wales to volunteer alongside their day jobs, claims the Police Federation.

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

Home Office data shows West Midlands Police had 284 special constables in March this year – up from 220 the year before.

However, it represents a drop of 56 per cent compared to 2011 when there were 649.

In Staffordshire there were 188 special constables in March this year, down from 205 the year before. That is a 57 per cent drop compared to 2011, when there were 437.

And the data shows West Mercia Police had 117 special constables in March this year up from 110 the year before. But again there has been a 55 per cent compared to 2011, when there were 260.

The officers, also known as “specials”, hold the same powers as police constables and work a minimum of 16 hours a month as volunteers.

The fall in the number of specials within West Midlands Police over the decade came alongside a 13 per cent decrease in full-time police officers, despite a Government-backed recruitment campaign for 20,000 more officers nationally by 2023. There was a 16 per cent decrease within Staffordshire Police.

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, 14 were in West Midlands Police – but there were none in Staffordshire Police or 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.”

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