PLANS by a Yorkshire police force to recruit 1,000 new special constables in the next two years may be too ambitious because of the time and cost involved, the Police Federation has warned.
West Yorkshire Police wants to triple the number of trained volunteers it will have working at the force as it battles to cope with dramatic cuts to its budget.
Specials volunteer a minimum of four hours a week alongside their regular jobs and have the same powers as regular officers once they finish their training.
Announcing the plans earlier this year, Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said the new recruits would be “vital to effective policing in West Yorkshire”, though the costs of the scheme are yet to be revealed.
Nick Smart, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said the proposals were a “massive ask” and that members “remain to be convinced that it is feasible.”
He said: “Who is going to do the training? Who is going to look after them? They have to be monitored and managed at a time when everyone is being asked to do more.
“If you have one or two specials on teams, we have the capability to guide, support and manage them.
“If they are only doing six hours a week, that isn’t much time. They need managing. If we have got ten of them on a team, it seems like a bit of a free-for-all.
“There are some fantastic specials out there who do a great job, but bringing in 1,000 over two years is ambitious. We remain to be convinced that it is feasible.”
West Yorkshire Police says the plans for the extra volunteers were “well advanced” and “very much in line with recruitment drives planned by other police forces”. The force has to make £154 million of savings between 2010 and 2016/17.
Assistant Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: “Work has been underway to make sure the recruitment, kitting out and training of new volunteers in West Yorkshire is entirely achievable and we look forward to bringing in new staff to help keep people safe and feeling safe.
“It must be stressed that new volunteers and special constables will not be used to replace regular police officers.
“There remain duties which can and should only be performed by full time, paid, uniformed officers. West Yorkshire Police has also signed a Volunteer Charter guaranteeing that the rights and roles of paid staff are protected.
“As austerity bites and regular officer levels regrettably reduce over the Comprehensive Spending Review period, volunteering allows us to bring new skills and capabilities into the organisation.
“It also provides us with a talent pool from which we can hire new police officers and PCSOs as vacancies do become available.”
Mr Smart said he was worried about the cost of paying for 1,000 new uniforms and training of the new officers, a process he says will take up to two years.
He said: “There is also an issue with retention rates. Yes, some stay for years, but a lot of them come and go very quickly.
“And we have to find them meaningful roles; in the past they have been used and abused and put on the more menial tasks.
“Things have changed and we have specials who are involved in operations, public order for example, and we welcome that. But at the same time we have to ask if aiming for so many of them is policing on the cheap.”
A RECRUITMENT programme for specials is also underway at North Yorkshire Police, who want to bring in 150 more.
They are particularly keen to hear from people aged over 35, those who live in rural areas and people from ethnic minorities.
Mark Botham of North Yorkshire’s Police Federation said: “I have personally trained specials in Craven and Ryedale and know the excellent contribution they can make.
“But now as then that contribution must be in support of and not instead of their full time colleagues. We would like to see the detailed costed retention plan which is necessary if this current recruitment drive is to be sustainable.”