Volunteers taking on police roles as cuts continue to bite

Cash-strapped police forces are filling some key job vacancies with unpaid volunteers amid ongoing cutbacks, says a report published today (Friday) by UNISON.

The number of police support volunteers (PSVs) being used across England and Wales has soared to more than 6,000 – the equivalent of a 15% rise – in just four years from 2014 to 2017, according to the report Crossing the Line.

Yet the number of paid police staff including Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) has dropped by 4,177 – or 5% – from 80,749 to 76,572 over a similar period, according to government figures*.

The increasing reliance on unpaid staff highlights the financial pressures forces face, warns UNISON.

The findings are based on freedom of information data from 32 forces including Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. This shows that 6,596 PSVs were registered with those forces who responded in (July) 2017 compared with 5,739 in (January) 2014.

Crossing the Line highlights how volunteers’ work includes operational roles that carry a high level of responsibility such as assisting crime teams, helping to recover DNA and being involved in supporting victims.

In some forces, PSVs now account for a significant number of the overall workforce. Hampshire constabulary has the highest percentage (35%) of PSVs, and in Devon and Cornwall they represent a quarter of the total police workforce.

The concern is that forces are using PSVs in operational roles without being able to deploy them in emergencies. This is because they do not have a contract of employment so cannot be relied upon in to turn out in these situations, says UNISON.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The increasing reliance on volunteers threatens to put the police and the public at risk.

“The concern is they’re being taken on partly to compensate for the loss of tens of thousands of paid police staff and officers as a result of government cuts.

“Volunteers can be valuable to police forces, especially in building bridges with communities. But they should never be used as a replacement for highly trained and properly vetted police staff.

“With serious and violent crime on the rise, the public want to know that their police force has the resources to fight crime. And this doesn’t mean having to rely on volunteers giving their time up for free.”

 Notes to editors:
–* The Home Office figures are from September 2014 to September 2017.
– A total of 32 police forces responded in full to UNISON freedom of information request in July this year. The request was sent to all UK police forces where UNISON has substantial membership and did not include the Metropolitan or City of London Police forces.
– A summary of Crossing the Line can be found here. The full report is available on request from the UNISON press office.
– UNISON is calling for proper funding to be restored for policing in the 2019 comprehensive spending review.
– UNISON is working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to seek to ensure that volunteering in policing is in roles that are appropriate, and that don’t stray into operational, or safety critical areas.
– Police staff work alongside police officers and make up 40% of the police workforce in England and Wales. They include PCSOs, crime scene investigators, analysts,
999 call takers, fingerprint experts, and many other essential policing roles.– The 2017 Policing and Crime Act allows chief constables to designate volunteers with all police powers, with the exception of powers of arrest, and stop and search which will remain exclusive to police officers.

Media contacts:
Anna Mauremootoo T: 0207 121 5555 E: press@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk