Say goodbye to special constables: Why the policing role is vanishing

Scotland’s special constabulary is at risk of vanishing altogether as new figures reveal the number of people employed in the role has fallen 64 per cent since the creation of the national police force

The number of special constables in Scotland has sharply declined
The number of special constables in Scotland has sharply declined

The number of special constables north of the Border has dropped from 1,394 in 2013/14 to 505 in 2018/19, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats through Freedom of Information requests.

Special constables operate on a part-time and voluntary basis, exercising similar powers to police officers and helping to boost the police presence in the community.

The Lib Dems are now calling on the Scottish Government to “repair the damage done by its botched centralisation”. The party’s justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “We are told that the history of the special constabulary is ‘long and impressive’, but at the current trajectory it will soon vanish altogether.

“The national force has lost almost 200 special constables a year on average, but trained just 50 last year.

“We’re asking more than ever of the police, but this hasn’t been matched in the resources they are given to deal with issues such as mental health.

“Now we know back-up is being eroded too. Special constables are a valuable community asset and boost the police’s presence in communities, relieving some of the pressure.” He added: “The SNP government needs to repair the damage done by its botched centralisation.”

Police Scotland was established in April 2013, merging the country’s eight regional forces into one service.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While we value the voluntary service provided by special constables to keep our communities safe, their recruitment and deployment is an operational matter for the Chief Constable.

“Police officers and police staff do an excellent job in often very difficult circumstances and it is only right that they have access to appropriate support.

“We will continue to support initiatives being undertaken by Police Scotland to create a safe, positive and healthy working environment.”

Police Scotland Chief Superintendent Alan Wright said: “A significant number of people (more than 500) have left the specials since April 2013 to become full-time officers and have either used the role as a valuable opportunity to gain experience or realised that they want to pursue a career in policing. We also actively recruit – and are keen to recruit even more – specials who volunteer in addition to their day job and can bring a wealth of life experience and skills to Police Scotland.”

A Scottish Police Authority spokesman said: “Clearly there is a place for special constables in the rich mix of individuals who contribute to policing in Scotland.

“What is required in 2020 is more substantive progress by Police Scotland in developing an overall strategic workforce plan to ensure that we have the right mix of officers and staff, employees and volunteers.”