New powers for police volunteers must be used wisely, warns Yorkshire chief constable

Dave Jones, chief constable of North Yorkshire Police
Dave Jones, chief constable of North Yorkshire Police
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Plans to give civilians the power to investigate crime under a dramatic expansion of the role of volunteers must be used wisely, according to a Yorkshire chief constable.

Under plans unveiled today by the Home Secretary, forces will be able to enlist members of the public who specialise in computing or accountancy for cyber and financial crime inquiries.

Home Secretary Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May

Dave Jones, North Yorkshire Police’s chief constable and National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Citizens in Policing, said the new approach would help “harness the great appetite for volunteering in the UK.

He said: “The new approach to designating police powers will help the police service be more flexible when it comes to attracting and deploying volunteers with valuable skills, especially in situations where the full powers of a constable are not necessary.”

But he warned: “The onus on chief constables is to use the powers wisely, ensure they fit the needs of local policing and provide appropriate training so that they help us keep our communities safe.”

Mr Jones said: “A new strategy for citizens in policing is being developed; as part of this we are seeking the views of all volunteers across the police forces of the UK, looking at their roles and experience in the past and planning for the future.

The new powers will form part of this strategy and give us more opportunities to harness the great appetite for volunteering in the UK.

Dave Jones, chief constable of North Yorkshire Police

“The new powers will form part of this strategy and give us more opportunities to harness the great appetite for volunteering in the UK.”

Under the plans, volunteers could be handed powers to detain suspects for 30 minutes while waiting for an officer and to issue fixed penalty fines, but they will not have powers of arrest.

The proposals sparked allegations of “policing on the cheap”, while the Government said they will help create a more flexible workforce.

Thousands of people volunteer to help their local forces but are limited to support functions such as manning enquiry desks, unless they become fully fledged special constables.

Home Secretary Theresa May will later announce a package of measures to pave the way for chief constables to hand more responsibility to civilian staff and volunteers.

The abolition of the role of police traffic warden is also set to be confirmed.

The Home Secretary said the Government is “committed to finishing the job of police reform”.

She said: “Police officers across the country carry out a wide range of duties, keeping the public safe and ensuring justice for the most vulnerable members of society. We value the essential role they play, but they cannot do this on their own.

“We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers’ time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out.

“At the same time, we want to encourage those with skills in particular demand, such as those with specialist IT or accountancy skills, to work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely.”

Civilians have been able to exercise the full range of police powers for almost 200 years in the shape of special constables.

Those wishing to volunteer currently have two alternatives - become a special or a police support volunteer who has no powers. The new measures will allow volunteers to be given powers without them becoming a special.

A “core list” will specify powers reserved for police officers only, including making arrests, carrying out stop and searches and all powers under counter-terrorism legislation.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the move sounds like a “back-door means” of filling cut posts and “could lead to policing on the cheap”.

He added: “The Home Secretary needs to provide assurance that it won’t lead to standards being compromised or corners cut. The concern is that these volunteers will not be checked or trained in the same way as those who volunteer as special constables.

“The simple truth is that communities can’t rely on a part-time police force.

“We have already seen thousands of police and civilian jobs lost and there are more on the way.

“The police service is an essential public service and cannot be provided on a voluntary basis.”