Powers for Community Support Volunteers and Police Support Volunteers

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2016 Police & Justice Service Group Conference
14 June 2016

Conference notes with concern the proposals in the 2016 Policing and Crime Bill to award significant police powers to community support volunteers and police support volunteers, by:

a)creating two new designated volunteer roles – Community support volunteer (volunteer PCSO) and Police support volunteer;

b)creating a reserve list of police powers to be exercised only by police constables, including the following powers: arrest, stop and search, custody officer, counter terrorism powers, powers relating to official secrets and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA);

c)allowing chief officers to award all other current police officer powers to community support volunteers and police support volunteers;

Conference is totally opposed to these proposals for the following reasons:

i)As UNISON’s 2014 report ‘Home Guard of Police Support Volunteers to fill in for Police Cuts’ makes clear, a bewildering range of police functions has been given to well meaning amateurs at a time of massive cuts to the police staff workforce. This has happened without any public debate and there are real questions over the use of police support volunteers and the public interest.

ii)Most importantly, there is a current consensus between the Home Office, NPCC, the College of Policing and the police staff trade unions that police support volunteers should bring ‘additionality’ to the police workforce, but should under no circumstances replace, or substitute for, paid police staff. The above proposals would subvert and destroy this fragile consensus that exists in relation to which police staff roles are appropriate for volunteers.

iii)On 5 March 2014, the Professional Committee of the College of Policing rejected a proposal to support the creation of a volunteer PCSO role.

iv)There is no evidence that police support volunteers would be prepared to submit to the necessary lengthy training, without pay obviously, that would be required in order to allow them to safely assume police powers.

v)The cost of training a special constable up to be able to undertake independent patrol is in the region of £14,000 per individual. Whilst the cost of training a police support volunteer to deploy with powers may not be as high, the Bill does not recognise the substantial costs which forces would face in designating police support volunteers with powers.

vi)It would not be possible to deploy volunteers with powers at short notice, as is the case with police staff currently, simply because the engagement of the volunteer is not governed by a contract of employment. Neither is it possible to roster volunteers effectively within shift systems for the same reason.

vii)The experience of volunteers in many police forces is that they can sometimes be unreliable, simply because they are not required to be anywhere at any time by virtue of working without a contract. The idea of expecting such volunteers to discharge police powers is worrying for an emergency service.

viii)Police support volunteers are to become subject to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation under proposals in the Bill, however, it is very unclear what hold the IPCC could have over an individual who had no contractual relationship with the force that he or she was working in. There is clearly no accountability to the general public in this respect and this will bring the proposal to give volunteers powers into complete disrepute.

ix)If the Home Office simply wants to allow financial investigators from private industry to act as volunteers with forces, or the National Crime Agency, these volunteers should simply be sworn in as special constables, which is what already happens in the City of London Police.

Overall, the proposals in the Bill to award police support volunteers all the powers which might in future be available to police staff is fundamentally flawed and dangerous for the reasons set out above.

The general public will not be fooled into thinking that, in the context on on-going severe cuts to the Home Office grant for police forces, this is anything other than a very thinly disguised attempt to replace directly employed, properly trained and accredited police staff with well-meaning (in most cases) amateurs. It really is policing on the cheap and the idea should be abandoned immediately.

Conference therefore instructs the Service Group Executive to:

1)Continue to oppose the award of police powers to community support volunteers and police support volunteers;

2)Work with branches and regions to oppose the award of any such powers at a local level.