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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Special constables may be paid
Specials have full police powers
Special constables could be paid in a government attempt to put more police on the streets.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has confirmed he is interested in "providing incentives" for the volunteer force, and expanding their numbers.

Mr Blunkett said the plans were among several suggestions for a Police Reform Bill, to be published later this year - but he said he had no concrete proposals as yet.

The Specials
Centuries-old tradition
Currently about 12,700 in UK
Work voluntarily
Work a few hours a week
Have full police powers
Wear uniform
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday: "We will bring this forward as part of the reform package, and if those who are being brought in and consulted would allow us to do so in private, we might be able to get a sensible agreement."

According to leaked Home Office documents reported in the Daily Telegraph, the so-called hobby bobbies will be paid about 6.50 an hour tax-free.

And a recruitment drive beginning in January will aim to boost the force from about 12,700 to 30,000.

Mr Blunkett added that the numbers were not likely to be as high as reported.

"I don't think it would be possible to recruit 30,000 people even if we had the money to do so."

'Dad's Army'

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said the government should instead be trying to boost the numbers of professional officers.

"Special constables must not be seen as an alternative to a properly manned and properly rewarded police force," she said.

Glen Smyth of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in London, agreed.

Officer shortages were of particular concern in the capital, he said, where property prices mean officers cannot afford to live and work, and are moving elsewhere or resigning.

But he said he preferred the idea of paying specials over various other recent suggestions which would create "a Dad's Army of neighbourhood wardens and private patrols."

BBC correspondent Jake Lynch says the proposals are clearly "going with the grain" of the Home Secretary's desire to make the police more visible.

Women officers patrolling the streets
The move is aimed at boosting police visibility
"Rising violent crime has been the biggest law and order problem facing this government - and people's sense of disorder - and the government wants to reassure the public that the police are there," he said.

"Indeed, as from this year chief constables are now obliged to include a 'visibility statement' in each annual report they write, saying on a ward by ward basis what they've done to make the police more visible on the streets."

"Specials" are volunteers who serve as police officers in their own time to support the regular forces.

Centuries-old tradition

There are currently about 12,700 in the UK, although a few years ago numbers were nearer 30,000.

They work typically for a few hours a week, in uniform and with full police powers. They may carry items such as handcuffs, batons and CS gas.

The tradition goes back hundreds of years, and in many rural areas they are the only police presence for many miles.

Specials do not face such stringent physical requirements as professional officers, but have to be fit.

In principle, they are trained "to the same standard" as professionals but the training is carried out over a longer period of time.

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Home Secretary David Blunkett
"I am interested in expanding the number of specials"
See also:

01 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Wardens aim to clean up streets
12 Jan 98 | UK
Is 'the force' with you?
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