Guest blog: Temporary Special Superintendent Rachel Oaten - a forward thinking and family feel to Wiltshire Police
Having been a Special for 15 years, and in different Forces I have had first-hand experience of the challenges facing special constables.
When I first started with Surrey Police, Specials were very much utilised to fill a seat on a night time economy van or sit next to a response officer - it felt like there was little development or opportunity. I also felt pretty isolated with no real induction after training or sense of belonging.
Transferring to Warwickshire when I started to study medicine I saw a change in the way officers were utilised and the opportunities that were afforded to them with officers starting to have response courses and leadership opportunities. I felt much more a sense of belonging to a team, and with this I was regularly completing in excess 150 hours a month.
Moving to Wiltshire when I started life as a Senior Emergency Department Doctor in Swindon and now A&E Consultant there seemed a real breath of fresh air. Specials were seen as an asset to the Force and the Force wanted to ensure officers felt included, valued and part of a modern growing workforce.
I have never felt such a sense of family as I have with Wiltshire Police, and whilst there may be difficulties or issues that all of us face, there is support and people are always willing to give their time, so when I was asked to step up to fill the huge boots left by Scott Bateman it was a real honour.
Never in my wildest thought processes (and they can be pretty wild at times!) when I transferred to Wiltshire did I ever think I would be flying a drone, knowing a Chief on first name terms, attending various meetings within the Force, utilising my own personal medical skills and representing Wiltshire at national meetings. All of this is because Executive Leadership Team have seen the value that volunteers bring to the Force, be it a unique skill set e.g. Paramedic / Pilot, a broad array of spoken languages or more in-depth IT / Cyber skills. I still truly believe there is a lot more work that can be done to harness the skills people have in their day jobs to benefit the Force and this is a work in progress.
Wiltshire Special Constabulary is almost nearly at the point of being a victim of its own success. We have grown rapidly in numbers owing to a successful recruitment campaign, dedicated project team and trainers and officers supporting our team on the street. We are now a bigger body of Specials than any of our neighbouring forces and our hours completed each month continue to increase to over 6,000 for the last 2 months.
There are still changes to come. Changes in internal leadership and rank structure, loss of the project team and the implementation of a Citizens in Policing team all of which we hope will go smoothly and ultimately be of benefit to our Specials in helping to support and develop them.
However, this has not come without significant complexities that risk our staff feeling unvalued and attrition rates increasing. Whilst our numbers have increased the infrastructure to support it has somewhat lagged behind and whilst this is being addressed change is often slow to come about. This has been a frustration felt across the whole of our Special Constabulary, project team and officers.
The future however does look exciting with opportunities being discussed around Roads Policing, Drone, Police Support Unit and Cybercrime. Having attended Regional and National meetings we are ahead of other Forces in looking at Specialisms that officers may want to develop and train but there has to be a balance struck of ensuring that the business as usual model of the Force and Force priorities are supported.
I really want Wiltshire Police to be seen as a dynamic Force that utilises and mobilises its Specials to ensure they get the best out of those officers and that we remain a truly valuable asset.