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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Britain's part-time police force
Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced that more special constables are to be recruited and could be paid. BBC News Online profiles the country's part-time force.

Special constables are volunteer police officers, drawn from all sections of the community, who work alongside regular officers.

There are currently 12,738 police special constables in England and Wales providing back-up to forces across the land.

Scotland also has special constables but they are not affected by Mr Blunkett's proposals as law and order is a devolved issue.

Things are very different in Northern Ireland because of the political and security situation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary has always employed paid reservists, hundreds of whom were killed during the Troubles.

The police service in Northern Ireland is set to undergo major changes and the role of reservists is very much up in the air.

Members of the part-time volunteer police force in England and Wales undergo a 19-week intensive training course which includes self-defence, law, arrest procedure, communication skills and first aids.

Recruits are also required to pass a basic eye test.

While on duty a special constable has the same powers as a regular officer, including the power of arrest, and is not precluded from any duties.

'Policing on the cheap'

The modern Special Constabulary dates back to 1914, when more than 100,000 volunteers were recruited as a reserve force to support the regular forces during World War I.

But the practice of appointing extra forces of law and order goes back to as far as the 1700s when laws were introduced to allow Justices of the Peace to appoint specials to combat widespread lawlessness.

In recent times the government has been accused of trying to obtain policing on the cheap, but despite this there are plans afoot to recruit even more volunteer police officers.

Police officers
Specials have the same powers as regular officers
The Home Office describes special constables as an "important link between the police and the community" who assist, not replace, regular officers.

Special constables, who must be over 18, are required to commit at least three to four hours a week to their duties, although most do much more.

They are appointed by, and are under the direction or control of, the chief officer of the police force area in which they serve.

Once appointed, every special is sworn in at court in the presence of a magistrate.

Although they are not paid, special constables can claim expenses and do receive an allowance.

Almost identical uniform

The Special Constabulary has a rank structure similar to that of the regular police force and the uniform is nearly identical to that of regular officers.

Special constables also carry identical safety equipment which includes a baton, handcuffs and CS gas.

The usual length of service for a special constable is four to five years.

Critics say that because of the part-time nature of the job, specials are only at professional standard for a year or two before leaving, which means money spent on their training is wasted.

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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