A working group is examining whether volunteer officers should be allowed the join the Police Federation. Cliff Caswell reports
With cuts of up to 20 per cent in funding already beginning to bite across the Police Service, the profile of the Special Constabulary is the highest it has ever been.
Faced with having to reduce civilian staff as well as asking more of regular officers, the volunteers have increasingly found themselves a reserve of first choice for chief constables being asked by government to do more for less.
In tandem, moves to give the Specials greater professionalism have also been rolled out. The implementation of the NPIA-led National Strategy aims to bring greater consistency in areas such as recruitment and training giving volunteer officers from across the country greater potential for working together.
With all these developments in mind, the question of whether Specials should be eligible for membership of the Police Federation of England and Wales is currently being discussed
At last May's conference in Bournemouth, a motion presented to the Joint Central Committee by Insp Shane Lambert of Sussex Police - proposing that moves to explore membership rights for Specials - was carried forward.
"This seemed a sensible move given that Specials are fully warranted officers - it seems daft not to let them in," said Insp Lambert. "Last year there was also the speculation that the Met were going to use the Specials as a means of recruitment, and obviously that is something that has now come to pass.
"If the motion is carried, it would give Specials exactly the same protections as Regulars, while raising their professional profile. They do, after all, have the same powers as us and have been fulfilling a very important role."
Geoff Knupfer, Chairman of the Association of Special Constabulary Chief Officers (ASSCO), said that a working group had been established and progress is being made.
He added: "We have recently had a committee meeting, and everything has been moving forward on schedule. We are very pleased with the progress.
"This change represents a dramatic step for the Special Constabulary and is going to take time - however, opening up Federation membership does make eminent sense."
Simon Reed, Vice Chairman of the Police Federation, has also been closely involved in the discussions about the move. He agreed that the time was right to examine the potential for involving Specials in the Federation.
"The reason that we're looking to progress having Specials as potential members of the Police Federation is because times have changed immensely," he said. "They are far more professional, they're far more involved with working with Regular officers and they get their own tasking to do so it seemed natural that we would look at them as potential members.
Mr Reed said the working party has been exploring several issues, including changing the Federation's legislation to accommodate the volunteer officers. Crucially, the group is also examining ways that the move could be funded.
"We haven't yet decided at the moment what the fees would be - this is still a part of our deliberations and we're exploring ways of doing this," he added. "I think we have come to the conclusion that there will be a cost to Specials, but whether that will cost individuals a subscription fee, whether there will be grants available or whether forces pay is another area we need to explore."
If the motion is carried it will represent a step change for the Special Constabulary. Clearly there are key issues that need to be resolved, but it will be interesting to see how the idea is progressed beyond this year's annual conference in May.
The Specials are undoubtedly growing in profile, and look destined to take on greater responsibility in future. Making sure they are adequately protected and fully represented for the role required of them will be key going forward.
This is obviously a very hot topic, have your say in the PoliceSpecials forums.