Essex Police Union Whines About Special Constables As Detectives

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Essex Police has advertised for volunteers to become detectives within the police force – this has, of course, set off the predictable whining from the Police Federation. The Police Federation being only the union for police officers and don’t let anyone tell you different. The thing is there’s nothing all that odd about using Specials in this manner. In fact, it’s one of the good uses of them. City of London Police has been using experts in this manner for generations.

So this is less alarming than it seems:

Essex Police advertising for ‘volunteer detectives’ but move branded ‘unacceptable’
Essex Police has denied it represents “policing on the cheap”, although critics have branded the new roles “unacceptable”.

There’s nothing wrong with policing on the cheap – we do all have to pay for it after all.

Essex Police are advertising for two unpaid special constables to help support detectives working on real cases. The ad is a sign of the force’s recruitment “crisis”, the Police Federation has said. The volunteers will support detectives in the Serious Crime Directorate.

So, to explain. A Special Constable is a volunteer who signs up to aid the police in their work. They have the same powers of arrest and so on. They’re unpaid though – in London the freebie travel card can make it quite an attractive option actually but that’s another matter. They also commit to 200 hours a year. So, about 10%, a little more, of a full working year.

Some to many do the normal boring Plod work. Standing around telling tourists the time, that sort of thing. But there’s another side to this. Take, say, the City of London force. The Square Mile hosts the world’s densest and largest – for the footage – concentration of specialist knowledge in finance. There’s a certain sense in having the City force look at financial crimes therefore and this has long been done.

It’s also true that those few – and it is always only a few who want to do it – who volunteer to be City Specials are likely to come from the finance industry. So, given that why have industry experts doing Plod when they can be in the specialist unit for their industry? Why have some hot shot forensic accountant who wants to do his community bit corralling thugs at a footie match instead of doing forensic accounting?

Or a more specific example. A couple of years back I helped out with a couple of investigations into a type of investment fraud. I know the market under discussion, perhaps another dozen or so in the country also knew, one of us should be aiding the police in their inquiries. What if one of us had been a Special? Should that expertise have been used keeping the booze crazed rugby fans away from trying to climb Monument? Or working on and explaining the rare earths metals market to those investigating those frauds?

Seems obvious when put that way.

So it is with Specials more generally, yes, many are indeed just the civic minded doing their bit. Some are experts in specific areas of life also doing their bit. So, we should use the experts where their expertise has the most use and benefit to us all. And if that’s in things which aid detectoring then that’s where they should be working, isn’t it?