Skills and Confidence Survey of Special Constables in the East Midlands


Volunteering in policing is one of the core ways in which citizens directly participate and it has a long and proud history in policing traditions. Volunteering is evidenced on a major scale in police organisations across the world, and in the UK police volunteer’s number into the tens of thousands. In England and Wales, the last thirty years have seen successive national and local drives to increase the numbers and impact of volunteers and particularly of Special Constables. Most prominent in more recent years was the surge in Specials numbers in the Metropolitan Police associated with the London 2012 Olympic Games. The advent of Police and Crime Commissioners has seen a sizeable proportion of Commissioners place the growth of local Special Constabularies as a core element of their Police and Crime Plans.

Whilst volunteering has long and deep roots across policing, voluntary roles often remain peripheral to policing organisations both operationally and culturally. Previous research addressing the experience of Special Constables and volunteers across England and Wales highlights the need for improvement in support, communication, supervision, management and recognition of the contribution of volunteers in policing. Gaps in understanding the skills, confidence and competence of Special Constables mean that the contribution of volunteers across the various demands placed on policing is often not realised. Many Specials have skills which go unrecognised through the recruitment and training process, for example working with children, young people and those with mental health conditions, speaking various languages or working with digital and online materials. Equally, some Specials may have completed training and fulfilled competencies up to ‘independent status’, but may not feel confident in these new skills to utilise them effectively. Currently, supervision and support for Specials may miss this insight and may impact on the engagement and retention of Specials.

This project seeks to assess the skills and confidence to use skills across Specials in the East Midlands, providing an evidence-base from which to develop approaches to maximising the potential of Specials and improving retention.

Research questions

This research aims to provide a picture of skills and confidence of Specials in the East Midlands, by:

  • Identifying existing skills, new skills, use of skills and interests in learning new skills
  • Measuring confidence associated with the core competencies in policing
  • Capturing perceptions of training, support, mentoring, supervision and management
  • Identifying opportunities to maximise the contribution of Specials


A self-assessment tool (survey) has been designed and tested to capture data from Special Constables. This survey takes approximately twenty minutes, which is a lengthy survey, but is designed to give the individual the opportunity to reflect on their progress and confidence across the core competencies required as a Special, and should be undertaken during volunteering hours.

The sample of Specials will include those at various stages of development, including new recruits, those on the pathway to independent status and those already independent. This will allow analysis across perceptions of training, support, supervision and management in relation to different periods of time, and will enable exploration of the impact of time, training and experience to confidence in use of skills.


Timeline of activity

  • November 2016 – January 2016 – data collection
  • February 2016– data analysis
  • March 2016 – final report
  • Week commencing 27th March 2016 – seminar to share the findings