Union urges authorities to investigate unpaid police volunteers

Volunteers are being used to help cope with the coalition's vast cuts to jobs


UNISON is urging authorities to look at the increasing use of ‘police support volunteers’ to replace paid staff in England and Wales.

In particular, the union is calling on Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out a ‘thematic inspection ‘of the trend, and has asked the College of Policing to look at the issue.

In a report published at the end of last year, UNISON expressed their concern that  ‘a bewildering range of police functions now being given to well meaning amateurs at a time of massive cuts to the police staff workforce’. They reported that 9,000 police support volunteers had been quietly recruited by police forces to replace the 15,000 jobs cut by the coalition.

The union say that some of the roles undertaken by volunteers do not impinge on established police staff employment, for example custody watch, bikesafe, street pastor and mystery shopper. But they also found volunteers working as drivers, stolen goods researchers, intelligence inputters and crime scene investigators, roles which would obviously normally be paid, or are considered to be inappropriately operational in nature.

Thames Valley Police reported the highest number of volunteer hours – 70,459 over 12 months – followed by Surrey (32,000) and West Yorkshire (19,432).

UNISON national officer Ben Priestley noted that this has happened ‘without any public debate outside of the police service, and there are real questions as to whether the developments we highlight are all in the public interest’. He added:

“UNISON believes that these matters fall squarely into the remit of the College of Policing and UNISON has  asked the College to respond to our report and convene the necessary consultative process to open up the issues to both the service and the wider public, and seek a new consensus if possible on the use of volunteers into the future.”

The call comes as police forces continue to suffer from austerity. This week West Midlands Police, England’s second biggest police force, announced that it will be cutting more than 2,500 jobs, replacing neighbourhood officers with ‘self service’ policing.

Chief constable Chris Sims said: “We are currently at a point where budgets for policing… are retracting at a level never seen before.”

Self-service policing involves updating the police website so that people can report and track crimes online. People will be able to type in a reference number and see what stage their case is at, a change which is likely to be unpopular. Research by the ONS has shown that trust in police is linked to police visibility, with people reporting that they feel less safe when they do not regularly see officers on the beat in their neighbourhood.

 Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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