Essex Police’s Community Special Constable scheme celebrates its three-year anniversary this year, with four Community Special Constables and two more who are just completing their pathway to independent patrol status.
Witham was the first town or parish to express an interest in this unique scheme which was set up to provide an increased visible policing presence, with the added benefits of public reassurance, victim support, helping vulnerable people and tackling crime.
Community Special Constables dedicate their voluntary service to their local town or parish, in return the local council pays their allowances and expenses.
Due to its success, Essex Police has had numerous enquiries from other forces, asking them how it works and for advice on how to set it up in their own force areas.
Witham Town Council are extremely supportive, providing requests from residents as well as full inclusion in town events and the Community Specials regularly attend the Community Committee Council Meetings.
CommunityAd spoke to S/Sgt Simon Jesse about the challenges and successes of the scheme in Witham.
What are the main aims/roles of the scheme?
Visibility is a keystone of the Community Special Constable scheme; meaning residents of Witham can see police officers on their streets, around the housing areas, in the parks, outside schools and in the town centre. Anti-social behaviour is another key task, which comes in many forms, and we tackle issues ranging from criminal damage and illegal riding of e-scooters to drug use or supply and dangerous driving.
In conjunction with the council, we listen to residents’ concerns and, together, we target identified issues and then put the resources in place to help to address them and improve community life. We also provide an initial response to crime in progress – as we are already in the town, we can be the first to react, which helps with victim support and being on scene quickly to deal with suspects.
What feedback do you receive from the community?
We receive feedback in different forms; for example, town councillors often thank and praise us, based on the activities detailed in our monthly reports or our presence during organised town events.
With members of the public, the nod in the street, the wave from children out with their parents or the chats in the park with visitors provides us with an initial sense of achievement in our visibility but this also enables people to stop and talk with us and this is where we really get the real positive engagement, with many thanking us for our patrols.
Have you had any critical feedback from the community that you are working to improve on or deliver?
Speed checks are highly emotive and wherever we carry out a speed check there are many more requests from people to operate a check in other roads or areas and these requests can be difficult to cover. Conversely, of course, there are people who think that speed checks should be less of a priority than other types of crime.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, we have not been able to engage with schools and clubs and this is something we would like to improve in the future due to its positive benefits.
How much of a difference to anti-social behaviour do you think foot patrols have in a community?
This is difficult to measure because if we go to an area and anti-social behaviour isn’t occurring it is difficult to say whether that’s because we went there or because we arrived at a time when it wasn’t occurring, however, I like to think that, in general, our patrols of the key public spaces, town centre and housing areas has made a difference.
Essex Police are always looking for more volunteers to join the Special Constabulary, whether they want to become a Community Special Constable dedicated to their local town or parish or police a little further afield.