Have you got what it takes to become a Special Constable?
- Credit: Matt Adams
"I've discovered some leg muscles that haven't been in action before!" Becoming a Special police officer is no walk in the park, as Herts' latest bunch of rookies discovered to their cost.
The team of seven recruits are gathered in the police training centre at Gosling Park in Welwyn Garden City - just a brief walk from Herts Constabulary's HQ - which boasts indoor and outdoor facilities including classrooms, running tracks and gyms.
They are expected to reach level 5.4 on a "beep test" (where you run a 15 metre distance between a gradually decreasing time frame indicated by electronic beeps), covering 525m in just three minutes and 35 seconds. It requires a high level of aerobic fitness - just try it for yourself to see how tough it is.
Then with legs aching and chests burning, the team move on to a day of personal safety training (PST), in which they will learn how to successfully and safely cuff a suspect and avoid any difficulties to them or the person they are restraining.
The process involves working with the mechanics of the human body, thinking of their own personal safety as well as the person they are cuffing - for example, standing to the side to avoid any unexpected headbutts or kicks to the shins.
It requires an immediate assessment of the environment and the suspect's behaviour so the officer can take control as quickly as possible. It's a fascinating process to witness, and makes you appreciate much more what's going on in an officer's head when preparing to cuff someone.
Surprisingly, there is no difference between Specials and "regulars" when it comes to training, with the only difference being one is a part-time voluntary role, and the other a full-time paid position, so any misconceptions about it being an easier ride will be swiftly left at the door.
Specials have the same powers as regulars, are expected to put in a minimum of 16 hours per month, and come from a variety of backgrounds including corporate, retirement and retail, with the only restrictions being that they need to be at least 18 years old and able to complete the required fitness test.
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(Don't get them confused with PCSOs, who work with police officers in Safer Neighbourhood Teams, helping to improve the quality of life for the community. They wear a different uniform and cannot make arrests, but they do have other powers.)
Their training also includes an academic element, for example the law around use of force, and when fully trained a Special can move into a specialist role like detective, or even switch to the regulars.
James Williamson, 38, runs a furniture restoration business based near Stevenage. He used to be a Special in Buntingford from 2010-2015 but had to leave due to job pressures, and is now rejoining the force after reaching a better work-life balance.
"I missed it very much," he explained. "There is a great camaraderie, it's like a big family, everybody looks out for everybody else regardless of rank.
"I decided to rejoin so I could give [the force] extra resources, help the community as best as I can, and be extra boots on the ground. It's not all about catching bad guys, it's about helping people in need and distress."
Also part of this latest round of recruits is 24-year-old Tom Mason, who currently works in the Force Control Room but wanted to help out on the other side of the phone.
"Since I started work at the FCR is was like a light switched on, it scratched an itch for me and I wanted more. My aspirations now are to become a regular officer, and this seemed like the right move before making that leap.
"The fitness test is a real mental challenge, but I've found as the week moves on I've been getting progressively quicker!"
Although Herts police is short on resources, not everyone will make the cut when applying to become a Special. For every 100 applications, approximately 28 are successful, although they do host regular open evenings to assist candidates with the initial stages of the process.
Candidates who are members of a banned party of group would be rejected, and although financial checks are carried out an applicant's situation would have to be very severe for this to prove a barrier, and measures are in place to ensure officers are supported with money matters.
A spokesperson for the force added: "It’s important to note that a case-by-case approach is taken and if candidates have concerns, they can email our recruitment team who are happy to help: SpecialsRecruitment@herts.pnn.police.uk
"The main thing is to be honest. Candidates have been rejected for trying to cover up things that probably wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d just been honest."
To find out more about becoming a Special Constable, including how to apply, visit www.hertspolicespecials.co.uk