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Specials numbers targets 'easier to say than achieve'

As we approach election time - and expected new pledges - Ian Weinfass highlights that many PCCs fell short of their overall numbers

Targets don't help cut crime, they hinder the fight against crime.

Those are the words of the Home Secretary Theresa May, whose key reforms have included the creation of police and crime commissioners.

At least eight PCCs - whose terms end in May - set targets to increase the numbers of special constables in their forces.

Most however did not achieve anything like the increase they promised the electorate.

Conservative PCC John Dwyer's election statement in 2012 said he wanted to increase the strength of Cheshire's volunteer officers to 1,000.

The former assistant chief constable's force had 387 specials at the time of his pledge, and in the latest figures available there were just 390 present.

Warwickshire, the Met and Dorset are also areas where elected representatives struggled to ensure an increase specials numbers.

The London force was set a target of 10,000 specials by Boris Johnson. In March last year it had just 3,659 - around 2,000 less than the number it had had in 2012.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh admitted to PoliceOracle.com last year that the pledge had to be scrapped.

Sussex and North Yorkshire have seen very slight increases in numbers, with their PCCs having made a big deal of using the resource in election statements.

One senior officer said recently: "A lot of PCCs put a number on how many specials they wanted and as we get to the next elections I expect we'll hear a lot of candidates saying they will do so again but many will find it's easier to say it than to do it."

While the special constabulary officers work for free, training, equipment and recruitment is costly. But what are the difficulties that PCCs felt existed in the process?

Early on in his term Warwickshire's Ron Ball, an independent, announced he would seek to increase numbers to above 400, from 259.

The force had 257 last year.

Mr Ball told PoliceOracle.com: "The thing that's been most difficult which, has applied to PCSO numbers as well, is the amount of recruiting we've done into the full time ranks.

"We've been trying to attract people in as specials they've been recruited into the [regular] force. That's good news for them but it has made it difficult to meet what I genuinely sought to achieve."

The PCC, who is not standing for re-election, added that it may also have been an area which saw less focus than it would have done had the force's strategic alliance with West Mercia taken a lot of his focus.

Asked if he would advise future PCC hopefuls to avoid naming a number on their ambition for specials he replied: "If it was possible to say you want an increase in the number of special constables without putting a number on it then yes, but it's difficult because the public will ask how many would you like that to be."

Humberside's Matthew Grove was elected on a pledge to "recruit more special constables" without naming a figure.

He said that after he took office he asked people in the force how many specials they thought they could recruit - to which 500 was the answer.

Humberside Special Constabulary had 416 officers in March 2015, up from 361 in September 2012, and is unlikely to reach the 500 mark.

Mr Grove said: "What I intended to do was significantly increase the numbers within the special constabulary. I very deliberately didn't put a number on it - I didn't want to burden policing with politically motivated specific numerical targets."

He added that he thought the numbers had been boosted as he quickly made clear to the force he considered the area important and by targeted advertising which drew people's attention to what is involved in the role.

Mr Grove, whose son has been a special for nine months, actually felt that recruiting specials into the regular ranks helped keep them on board because it gave an incentive to those wanting to apply for jobs at the force to see their ambitions could be fulfilled.

Elsewhere, Northamptonshire PCC Adam Simmonds pledged to increase the number of specials in his force in his election manifesto, without giving a specific figure.

In 2014, when there were less than 500 in the force, he promised to increase numbers to 900 by May 2016.

Kathryn Buckle, who leads on the issue for the Mr Simmonds, said that with a cohort who have joined this week numbers are at 665, and she expects to reach 900 by May.

One of the key ways in which this quick recruitment is done is a "bespoke" recruitment package which the force employs the Manpower agency to deliver.

"In most forces it takes six to nine months from application to joining as a special, whereas we have a two month recruitment process. We have had one person go through the process in as quick as 14 days," she said, adding that they can also go more slowly if they wish.

Other initiatives used in the force include a dedicated website for specials recruitment, and swift contact from the recruitment agency for an initial telephone interview.

All of the forces PoliceOracle.com spoke to said they have maintained high standards in the recruitment process.

John Dwyer's office did not respond to request for comment before this article went live. 

They later sent a statement which said his office had worked hard to increase the number of specials and was happy that it had achieved over 1,000 volunteers of all types - including HorseWatch and CycleWatch members who report crime to the force. Read more on this here.

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