For the first time for some years, there is a new and very special group of trainees at Sussex Police. These are the latest Special Constables, recruits who have volunteered to work alongside the regular police force, and it was privilege to visit them during a weekend training session at Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes.
Special Constables are by no means a new invention in British policing. Their history extends back 900 years, during which time citizens could be called-up to support the capture of fugitives - a role which would have been linked to the responsibilities of the county’s High Sheriff.
In the 19th century, a volunteer police force was established as a legal entity to help manage civil unrest linked to the challenges of industrialisation. The officers were given the powers to arrest and carry law-enforcement equipment. This peace force became such an important component of the overall police presence that numbers were expanded until, by 1939, there were 130,000 across the UK, of whom 95 per cent were unpaid part-timers.
The current national figure now stands at 11,000 but the numbers are increasing again and in Sussex it is hoped we will have 120 deployable Special Constables by April 2021.
At times in their history, the Specials have been given very specific responsibilities. In World War One, they were required to protect fresh water supplies from contamination by enemy infiltrators. In Word War Two, they were trained to provide first aid, maintain security around crashed aircraft, clear the vicinity around unexploded bombs and maintain night-time light restrictions.
Today, the Specials are trained in all aspects of the law and policing, so they can carry a Warrant Card once they have made their own attestation before a magistrate at the end of training. Once this is completed, the majority of the Sussex Specials will be deployed, for a minimum of 16 hours a month, within neighbourhood teams, who will respond to emergency calls, tackle neighbourhood priorities such as anti-social drug use and participate in community engagement operations.
However, Specials come with their own range of skills from their regular day jobs and these bring a much-appreciated added value to the regular police force.
Alan Rankin-Thorn, who is head of Sussex Special Constabulary and runs an IT services company, introduced me to Chris, a BA pilot, and Paul, an expert in air transport logistics.
With such professional competence available to them, the police have opened opportunities for Specials to train in depth in specialisms such as road policing, rural crime and safeguarding investigations.
Det Supt Rachel Carr, Sussex Police’s thematic lead for the Specials, also sees the possibility for a role in specialist and tactical enforcement and in investigations.
At our meeting, Dept Supt Carr confirmed this point: “Sussex Police is delighted to support these dedicated people who want to work with us to fight crime and keep people safe, and it is important to us that they feel welcome in Sussex Police and are given good opportunities to build on the range of skills we can give to them as they serve alongside us.”
Alan Rankin-Thorn is equally clear that the key to a successful Special Constabulary is in the quality of their training and the professionalism which underpins every part of their service.
“Each of the Specials in Sussex has the same powers as a PC and wears the same uniform,” he said.
“It is a position of great responsibility but the skills you learn, and the amazing experiences you go through, make you even better prepared to manage the challenges of civilian life.
“Being a Special is a fascinating life opportunity and I am so pleased that we are now able to welcome into Sussex Police a new cohort of volunteers into this uniquely special role.”
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