Essex villages could ‘buy a bobby’ with new special constable scheme

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (second left) with ACO Derek Hopkins who heads up the Essex Police Specials, and two Special Constables. Picture: NICK STRUGNELL

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (second left) with ACO Derek Hopkins who heads up the Essex Police Specials, and two Special Constables. Picture: NICK STRUGNELL

www.nickstrugnell.com

Towns and villages across Essex could soon be offered the chance to pay for their own police officer.

Roger Hirst, the Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, is trialling a scheme where town and parish councils can pay for a Community Special Constable.

The volunteer officer would be trained and equipped by Essex Police, but have their duty and travel expenses paid for by the sponsoring council – making them cheaper than a salaried PCSO, while also having full arrest powers.

Currently councils can pay for their own dedicated PCSOs with some having several, such as Frinton and Walton Town Council, paying for six.

Mr Hirst said: “More local, visible and accessible policing is one of my seven policing priorities to protect Essex. To this end I have made a commitment to double the size of the Special Constabulary by 2020, which means increasing the headcount to 700 Special Constables.

“I want a Special in every community. We are starting to work with specific towns and areas and would like those areas to help contribute towards the expenses of having a Special Constable covering a dedicated patch.”

Robert Bucke, mayor of Frinton and Walton, said he welcomed the trial scheme but if it was rolled out to other areas said he saw Specials as an addition to, rather than a replacement of, his council’s PCSOs.

Three authorities are taking part in the trial scheme including Witham Town Council, which is looking at having five Specials.

James Sheehy, deputy clerk at the council, said: “It is the number one priority of councillors to address the lack of visible policing. A common criticism from the public is it’s not the rapid response that is the problem, but of community patrols and losing our town’s police station.

“It’s the low-level problems that police used to clean up that has the highest impact.

“With this scheme there is some cost to the taxpayer, but it is pretty low cost.

“People want a dedicated constable around in the area, not one who gets shipped across the district. They want a recognisable officer they can put a name to, who gets to know the trouble-makers and hot spots.

“I think having a warranted officer [with arrest powers] makes a difference as well.”

A Special Constable agrees to volunteer at least 16 hours per month, plus time for training – on average an Essex Special Constable volunteers 26 hours a month.

It could take up to 18 months for the Specials to start due to training and background checks, but Mr Sheehy said: “It’s moving along as fast as it can and we’re not going to let it go.”

The idea is Community Special Constables would start and end their shift “as close to their community as possible” and spend “the majority” of their time in the neighbourhood. They would help address local issues as informed by the council, and police intelligence.

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