Yorkshire’s newest chief constable has revealed his force must recruit more volunteers to help tackle weekend crime as budget cuts bite.
David Crompton, who took command of South Yorkshire Police last week, said taking on more special constables would give officers more flexibility to handle trouble on Friday and Saturday nights.
The force, which must save £40m over four years, currently has between 280 and 300 members in its special constabulary, but Mr Crompton said he wanted to raise the number to more than 400.
He announced the plans as he defended moves to make PCSOs, rather than officers with powers of arrest, the “first line of contact” with the public in the county’s neighbourhoods.
The new chief constable denied the force was seeking to provide “policing on the cheap”, but admitted it would benefit from recruiting specials, who are unpaid.
“I think we need to look at a significant increase in the number of specials,” he said.
“We are in the fortunate position of recruiting again normal officers and I want to run a much bigger recruitment drive for specials on the back of that.
“Some people are going to be available on Friday and Saturday nights when we have peak demand and they can help as we attend the areas where we tend to get more disorder than elsewhere.
“Let us not forget they are volunteers, but they are a very flexible resource in that respect.”
Changes to neighbourhood policing, which Mr Crompton said had already begun, have been criticised by the Police Federation and former Home Secretary David Blunkett, the Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside.
The force’s regular officers are being grouped into “taskable teams” available to deal with serious incidents, while PCSOs are being rebranded Local Beat Officers and will carry out all grassroots work on the streets.
The move has prompted fears it could lead to the permanent removal of warranted officers from communities, but Mr Crompton said residents would see little change.
“PCSOs cannot deal and should not deal with confrontational situations, but actually 80 per cent of what police officers deal with isn’t even crime, let alone a confrontational situation,” he added.
“There has to be a whole range of things that are more appropriate for PCSOs to deal with.
“The police officers that have always worked in an area will still be working in that area, but they will be targeted at those things that are more likely to need police powers.
“Neighbourhood policing is very, very important to me and I will be looking at this very closely to see how it works out.”
At least five inspector posts are being removed from safer neighbourhood teams under the changes, but Mr Crompton said they were mainly management roles.
He added: “I want to dispel any alarm that people are going to lose staff from their safer neighbourhood team.
“We are not taking any staff away. We are keeping the same police officers working in the same teams they always have done, and the same PCSOs.
“All we are trying to do is match up the different skills and powers with the different jobs, problems, tasks and incidents that come along.”
Mr Crompton will give more details about the changes at a meeting of South Yorkshire Police Authority today.
The authority will also consider a new proposal for South Yorkshire to join the National Police Air Support (NPAS) helicopter service.
Initial plans for the NPAS, which would have seen South Yorkshire losing its dedicated police helicopter, were rejected by the authority last year.
But members have been recommended to approve a new offer, which would allow for a helicopter to be based at Sheffield 10 hours a day.
South Yorkshire would be able to call upon other NPAS helicopters at other times of the day, so the county would have 24/7 coverage.
Under current arrangements, the force helicopter is grounded 20 per cent of the time for maintenance and repairs.
Mr Crompton said: “The new offer is better than we currently have in some respects, and not quite so good in others.
“You can say we will have a bit less local control, but we have to balance that out against the fact we will have 24/7 availability and we don’t have that now.”