Furlough force: Special constables praised for ‘phenomenal volunteering’ during pandemic

  • Watch: Full video report on the airline pilot and wedding events manager policing the streets

Senior police officers have praised the “phenomenal contribution” of volunteer special constables in Kent, since the pandemic began. 

The county’s 311 unpaid officers have spent more than 145,000 hours on the frontline since March 2020, according to official figures shared with ITV News Meridian. 

Kent Police says that represents an average of 43 extra officers on the beat every single day. Assistant Chief Constable Peter Ayling has described their volunteering as “truly humbling”.

In recent months, SC John Riley has swapped aeroplane cockpits for the driving seat of a police traffic car.

  • Assistant Chief Constable Peter Ayling praises the work of volunteer officers:

Like the majority of forces, Kent Police asks its special constables to volunteer a minimum of 16 hours a month but recently many have been booking on duty far more frequently than that.

SC John Riley has been volunteering with the force for four years, fitting in his shifts around his day job as an airline pilot. Since coronavirus hit, he’s largely been furloughed from flying allowing him to contribute thousands of hours to policing. 

“The planes go a little bit faster,” John admits. “But the skills involved [in both jobs] do cross over quite well. There’s a lot of decision making, often under pressure, and while you’re having to take in a lot of information.”

He is based on the Road Policing Unit near Maidstone and is trained to drive high-performance traffic cars. 

  • SC John Riley has used his time while on furlough as an airline pilot to dedicate to policing:

Special constables have the same powers and responsibilities as their full-time, paid colleagues but carry out their policing duties on a voluntary basis. 

They are issued with handcuffs, incapacitant spray and a baton as part of their standard safety equipment. 

SC James Johnston joined Kent Police in September last year, but has already volunteered more than 2,500 hours. His day job managing a wedding events company has been a lot quieter than usual. 

  • SC James Johnston runs a wedding events company, so has had lots of free time to volunteer:

Kent Police is currently recruiting for new special constables and SC James Johnston would urge others to consider it. 

“Obviously it’s not going to be for everyone but if you are looking to make a difference, have a responsibility, and a challenge then I’d say 100 per cent – go for it!”

Q&A: The Special Constabulary

What powers to special constables have?

The Special Constabulary is unique among policing volunteers in that its officers have full police powers and directly supplement the regular service. Special constables are warranted constables, with all the powers of a regular police officer.

Source: College of Policing

What duties do special constables carry out?

Volunteer special constables work in a range of policing areas including:

  • community safety unit - tackling anti-social behaviour

  • foot and vehicle patrols

  • house-to-house enquiries

  • presenting evidence in court

  • responding to 999 calls

  • road safety initiatives

  • specialist areas such as roads policing, search and marine unit

Source: Kent Police

Special constables wear the same uniform as paid officers and carry much of the same equipment.

With the furlough scheme due to end in September, and coronavirus restrictions gradually lifting, many of the ‘furlough force’ will soon not be able to volunteer quite as many hours as they have over the past 16 months.

“During that period, when we really needed them, when we had the really difficult balance of responding to lockdown restrictions, their expertise has been invaluable,” added ACC Ayling.