17 October 2019

A Special contribution

Julia Wire is a Senior Research Officer at the College of Policing and recently joined her local Special Constabulary.  Here she tells us about the application process and how she is finding her new role as a Special.

Tell us a bit about you and your role at the College?

I've been a police researcher for eight years this month, initially at the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and then the College. Before that, I did research in other sectors but would typically move on after a couple of years. The fact I've stayed where I am for several years now is testament to the variety of research we do at the College and the genuine opportunities to make a difference to frontline policing. 

I'm currently part way through a secondment to South Yorkshire Police's Problem Solving and Demand Reduction Programme. It is my role to continue to develop the evidence base around problem solving. Before that, I was primarily carrying out research around domestic abuse and how the police assess risk. It was through that work that my interest in becoming a Special was piqued. 

Why were you interested in becoming a Special?

As part of the risk assessment research, I spent hours observing officers in different forces respond to incidents, seeing what it was actually like for officers on the ground. I remember one day being sat at a police station, collecting data from their systems when a call came in about a high risk missing person. The station emptied. I wanted to go out and help with the search but had to stay behind. While through the work I was doing for the College I was able, in a small way, to influence police practice and policy, I realised I wanted to contribute in a more practical way. I wanted to help those who were most vulnerable and also officers who were, without doubt, over-stretched.  

Tell us a bit about the process of becoming a Special.

I filled in my application form to join my local Special Constabulary. Shortly afterwards I was invited to an assessment centre where I was interviewed and had to complete a written exercise. Having been successful at that, I then had a medical and my fitness test. It's fair to say my first attempt at the fitness test didn't go well! The second attempt was much better and then I just had to wait for my security clearance to come through. The initial part of training was a combination of classroom sessions at the weekend and self-directed learning at home. For the first time in years I was having to take exams again.  Having attested (been sworn in as a Special Constable) a few months later, it was time to go out on the streets and train on the job. Each shift I've been well supported by other Specials and regular officers.

What do you do as a Special?

As a Special in my area, there are countless opportunities for what you can get involved in. The only thing we can't do is firearms. There are Specials who work on rural policing teams, are dog handlers, police medics, roads police and so on. Most of my shifts to date have either been operations run by other Specials or shifts alongside regular response colleagues. You never know what each shift will bring. I've dealt with road traffic accidents, domestic abuse, missing people, suicidal people, burglaries, assaults,  sudden deaths to name a few. 

How has being a Special altered your perspectives on policing?

Being a Special has reinforced to me how difficult a job policing is. Each call is essentially walking into the unknown. As a researcher, I focus on one small part of the job at a time, be that domestic abuse, mental health etc. Officers are expected to be knowledgeable about all aspects, remember the details of lots of different policies and legislation, deal with whatever they are confronted with and be accountable for every decision they take. Officers and staff have my upmost respect and I will carry on trying to make a small contribution through my day job and as a Special. 

How does the College support Specials?

The College of Policing recognises the valuable support that Special Constables (and other policing volunteers) provide to policing on a daily basis. 

Working in partnership with key policing stakeholders, the College provides national policy support and advice to forces on a range of topics and products pertaining to the Special Constabulary. It also leads on work designed to support the further professionalisation of the Special Constabulary and developing national standards in areas such as PEQF, National Professional Development Review, and producing an evidence-base of innovative roles, via a case studies analysis, to promote national consistency.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Special you can email specialsteam@college.pnn.police.uk or visit the College of Policing website.


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