The well-being of the Special Constabulary within Devon and Cornwall Police

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Exeter

In Collaboration With

Devon and Cornwall Special Constabulary; SC Chief Officer Marc Kastner-Walmsley

Principal Researcher

Dr Ashley Frayling

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

December 2019

Research Context

The well-being of police officers within Devon and Cornwall Police (DCP) is currently the force’s top priority. The Special Constabulary, a much overlooked group until now, fit into this category. As examples, the latest State of Policing Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales (Winsor, published 4th July 2019) identified that one in five serving police officers and staff have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The well-being of Special Constables is important not only in terms of their mental and physical well-being as individuals in the difficult and challenging position of being a volunteer working on the frontline of policing, but also in terms of their absence, sickness levels and levels of retention. Retention of Specials remains a key priority for police forces with Special Constables figures continuing to fall nationally, despite large scale recruitment drives and successful campaigns. The success of these recruitment campaigns highlights that there are issues once Specials are in service which could be potentially leading them to leave. Their well-being could ultimately be playing a role in this decision.

There are two parts to the well-being of Special Constables, the short and long term, and this project seeks to gain an in-depth understanding of both these areas. The research aims to find out from Specials what support mechanisms they feel are in place to provide them with instant support for difficult jobs or incidents in the short term. And then what processes, policies or practices are in place to support those individuals in the long term. The long term effects of incidents are of particular concern, considering there can be individuals going to multiple incidents over months – traumatic incidents such as suicide, murder, death and rape - so what are the accumulative effects of those incidents? While regular officers will work alongside their teams and colleagues continuously so that it is easier to observe their long term behaviour, and pick up on significant changes in behaviour that may be indications of stress, trauma and PTSD etc., Specials do not. They may not work with the same officers again for a long time, instead working with multiple different regulars and other Specials, as well as returning to their regular places of employment. This means that symptoms, signs of stress, trauma etc may be seen within their regular employment and family but not within the police environment, and as a result could be harder to spot with no clear overview of their welfare taking place. Further understanding of the issues is required, what is in place to offer support, and what other support, interventions and training can be put in place to better support the Specials with DCP.

It is envisaged that the overall research for this project will be in two phases. This proposal relates to Phase One only. This Phase One is to identify how Specials feel supported now and if there are other things, interventions or training that they feel would assist them with their well-being. Phase Two, which could form the basis of a larger grant application, would see the recommendations emerging from Phase One being implemented, and quantitative measures such as absence, sickness levels and retention rates being used to evaluate the impact and success of these recommendations over a one-year period. Further recommendations would then be proposed that could be implemented more widely including across other Forces in England and Wales.

Research Methodology

​One-hour semi-structured interviews with 20 Specials from a variety of areas within DCP will be undertaken. These activities will seek to understand how they cope, what training and support mechanisms are in place, and what mechanisms are needed to help them cope with the sights and trauma that they come across in their police work. The sample will be obtained through the Citizens in Policing department within the force and additional data will be sought from the force in terms of how many Specials have been highlighted for support after particularly difficult incidents.

Date due for completion

June 2020
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