9 November 2023
The College of Policing must urgently update its guidance in relation to police staff, who are also special constables, to protect them, and the force, from the risks involved when ‘flipping’ roles.
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is concerned over the practice of police staff switching to the role of special constable within the same duty period to access powers that are not available within the police staff role, as it leaves them exposed should an individual’s actions require investigation.
Alarm bells were raised by PFEW in August this year, and the Federation has now directly corresponded with the National Police Chiefs’ Council Special Constabulary Lead, Assistant Chief Constable Bill Dutton, calling for support to get the national guidance updated as a matter of urgency.
There are many roles previously undertaken by warranted officers that are now able to be carried out by police support staff with designated powers by chief constables.
These include roles such as police community support officer (PCSO), investigative support officer, custody detention officer, field intelligence officer – to name but a few.
The Special Constabulary eligibility criteria is set out in the College of Policing’s Special Constabulary Policy Manual for force practitioners dated 2019 and NPIA Special Constables: Eligibility for Recruitment, dated 2011.
Some of the roles now undertaken by civilian police staff were not in existence when the criteria was written.
There are a number of roles explicitly barred from joining the Special Constabulary to avoid a conflict of interest. PCSO is one of the excluded professions on the list.
PFEW Special Constabulary Lead Nicky Ryan said: “While we understand role ‘flipping’ is done with the best of intentions, we consider there are several risks in doing this.
“These risks could leave the individual or the force exposed and vulnerable. The most obvious concern is it could put any prosecution into jeopardy and become a point of contest within a case, if it is not absolutely clear in what capacity the individual acted – were they on duty as police staff or a special constable and was that made clear to all parties at the time.
“In addition, should the matter become an issue with the Professional Standards Department, there would be some conflict as to who would support the member. We would support someone acting in their capacity as a special constable but could not if it were unclear and they were acting in their capacity as police staff. The reverse applies for the trade unions that support police staff.
“There is also the ongoing issue of short staffing and lack of resources within forces. The practice of flipping roles may keep things ticking over, but it is merely a sticking plaster and does not resolve the fundamental problems, as it obscures them.
“This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and the College guidance updated so it is clear to individuals what is expected of them as special constables or as police staff members, and all parties, including chief officers, are protected.”