Citizens in Policing blog
Deputy Chief Constable Richard Debicki is the NPCC National Special Constabulary Lead. In this blog he discusses issues relating to Special Constables and outlines his thoughts on the future of the Constabulary.
This week is Volunteers’ Week, a week in which, across the UK, people will celebrate the contributions made to our communities by volunteers. I would like to direct my personal thanks, praise and celebration to a very special group of volunteers, the members of the Special Constabulary.
As National Lead for the Special Constabulary, I could put forward a case that during this Volunteers’ Week, I represent one of the oldest volunteer organisations in England and Wales (around 736 years old, by my reckoning), with the concept of unpaid, part-time constables tracing their origins back as far as 1285 and the reign of King Edward I. I am sure that there will be many historians eager to point out that officially, the Special Constabulary dates back to The Special Constables Act of 1831 (still, no junior partner, it will be 190 years old this October!), however there is one thing that I am sure we can all agree on. The Peelian principle of ‘the police are the people and the people are the police’ - whilst it has evolved with the politics of the time - has underpinned British policing since its inception and in my honest opinion, the Special Constabulary of today is the epitome of this.
Special Constables really are a special group of people; not only do they volunteer their time, but they undergo rigorous selection and training and then, whilst many others are relaxing at the end of a hard week, they don their stab vest, hi-vis and head dress and step forward to take their place on the ‘thin blue line’, most policing their home town or village, facing the whole host of risks and unpleasantries that the role requires, to keep their communities safe and with a genuine desire to help improve the lives of others.
This concept of personal risk is what is a real motivator for me and the team that I lead in driving forward some really positive changes for the Special Constabulary. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, if passed, will finally allow Special Constables to be represented by the Police Federation and thereby afforded the same opportunity for protection and support as regular colleagues. We are moving into the final stages of outlining exactly how this will be brought to fruition from a policing perspective, and I am determined to see this through as this will be, perhaps, one of the most important changes to the operation of the Special Constabulary in the last quarter of a century.
In addition to this, my team are working on a national interoperability model (which will allow Special Constables from different force areas to deploy nationally), providing a better equality and diversity framework for Special Constables and also on putting in place more structured training for leadership roles (focusing, initially, on the key roles of Special Sergeant and Special Inspector). All of this better equips the thousands of officers that make up the ranks of the Special Constabulary to deal with the risks that they face on a sometimes daily basis.
Whilst Special Constables have been better equipped than ever to meet the rising demands placed on Policing, contributing over 3.5 million hours during the pandemic (equivalent to 1725 full time police officers), we are seeing more Specials effectively transition to the paid ranks than ever, on account of a better understanding of policing and enhanced skills that are gained by individuals from their volunteer service. This is testament to the hard work being put in at all levels, but has also necessitated the introduction of dedicated officers to increase SC recruitment.
Work around communications, media, and streamlining of training is progressing well and there will also be a number of dedicated online recruitment events over the next few months which I would encourage anyone who is interested in the Special Constabulary to attend. Details of these will be circulated far and wide - we really do need our Special Constabulary to be representative of the diverse and multi-cultural society in which we all live.
To the public reading this, I would like to say that whilst this week is absolutely about celebration, which I do not wish to digress from, I would just encourage you all to spare a thought for those brave and committed people who forgo a chunk of their free time to patrol the streets, support victims of crime, bring offenders to justice and who, in doing so, face the numerous risks that go with the territory: the volunteers who make up the Special Constabulary.
To those officers themselves, I would like to say a heart-felt ‘diolch yn fawr iawn i chi’. You make an invaluable contribution to society and I hope that the work that is being undertaken under the direction of myself and my team will be a tribute to this. Take care and stay safe.
DCC Richard Debicki
NPCC National Special Constabulary Lead
As NPCC lead for Citizens in Policing in Wales, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts with you today, Home Nations Day, the day that we celebrate our national heritage.
The Policing Vision 2025 seeks to make Policing truly representative of society. This means embracing the diverse nature of our communities and ensuring that every person, regardless of their personal circumstances, is able to perceive the Police as a service that represents them and understands and best serves their needs. Through encouraging and supporting people from diverse backgrounds and from all areas of society to volunteer within Policing, to opening more lines of communication with community groups across the country and being transparent about the decisions we make, we will ensure that the needs and expectations of society are met.
As well as looking forward, it is also important to look back. In Wales, we are extremely proud of our heritage and I feel that a great balance is struck between embracing change without forgetting our roots. The Welsh language, Cymraeg, belongs to all of us, whether we speak it or not or just have some basic knowledge. It is integral to our culture and our heritage and our daily lives in Wales. So it’s right that we consider this as Police Forces when we provide services and information to the public and to colleagues at work.
Offering the service in both Welsh and English is the law, but it is also the right thing to do, and helps build the confidence which is so important in policing. All Forces in Wales have to comply with the Welsh language standards, but NPCC Wales Cymru also has a Welsh Language Strategy, and every member of the Police workforce is encouraged to use Welsh in the workplace and when dealing with the public, to do our part to “let the old language endure”, to borrow a popular phrase. You will see officers wearing their ‘siarad Cymraeg’ (‘speak Welsh’) or ‘dysgu’ (‘learning Welsh’) badges as part of an initiative to support this.
Of course, you will also recognise numerous items on the uniforms of Welsh Police Officers that are a link to our nation’s proud past. The Prince of Wales’ feathers, which form part of the insignia of the four police forces in Wales (those being North Wales Police, Dyfed Powys Police, Gwent Police and South Wales Police) trace their origins back to Prince Edward, The Black Prince. One of the first Princes of Wales, he is rumoured to have taken them from the body of King John of Bohemia who he defeated - with the notable use of Welsh Archers - at the Battle of Crecy. There is no historical evidence for this link, however it makes for an interesting story and adds an air of mystery around the seven hundred year old national symbol!
Secondly, the use of the Welsh Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch – The Red Dragon), is further evidence of our strong links with Welsh heritage. The symbol is nearly 1200 years old, appearing first as a symbol of the Welsh people in Historia Brittonum (AD 829) and then used extensively through Arthurian Legend and Y Mabinogion. These stories tie the dragon to a place known as Dinas Emrys, which is just outside Beddgelert, a truly beautiful location in my own force area of North Wales. The Welsh Dragon appears on some of our badges, uniforms and insignia across hundreds of organisations in Wales; it is a matter of pride for officers and staff and it is definitely a talking point.
I have already mentioned the beauty of Beddgelert, but as you are no doubt aware, we are extremely fortunate to have some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes inside our borders, from Eryri in the North, including Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Aber Falls and the castles of Edward I, through mid-Wales with Offa’s Dyke and Glyndwr’s Way, to South Wales and the waterfalls of Pontneddfychan (Pont Neath Vaughan), the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast. Of course, as we come out of lockdown and restrictions are eased further, we can fully expect a return to some sort of normality for the tourism industry in particular, with people returning to Wales to share our beautiful environment. This will undoubtedly have an effect on what volunteering will look like over the coming months and beyond; I anticipate that you, as the strong and resourceful contingent of volunteers that have served your communities so well throughout the difficult times of the pandemic, will rise to the challenge, adapt and continue to perform.
I thanked you all earlier this week, but today I would like to say a special thanks and best wishes to all citizens in policing across Wales today; ‘diolch yn fawr am eich gwaith caled, cadwch yn ddiogel’.
DCC Richard Debicki