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Frequently Asked Questions

Here's some of the most common questions I get about the Special Constabulary and my best shot at a sensible answer! For an overview of what's involved in becoming a Special, see our recruitment information page.

  1. Do Specials get paid?
  2. How much time must I give to being a Special?
  3. Can I transfer from one force to another after I've joined?
  4. How does being a Special affect you?
  5. What does it mean to be "Sworn In"?
  6. How much time on duty is spent doing the exciting stuff we see on TV?
  7. Can I choose when to perform duties?
  8. Can I choose where I'm based?
  9. What is the training like?
  10. Do Specials patrol on their own?
  11. Can Specials drive police cars?
  12. Do Specials have to get permission to arrest people?
  13. Can Specials arrest people off duty?
  14. How do the regular police officers treat Specials?
  15. Will being a Special help me get into the Regulars?
  16. Would a Law Degree help me get into the Police?
  17. Can Specials join the Traffic Department?
  18. What happens if a Special Constable gets sued?
  19. What if I got injured on duty as a Special Constable?
  20. Do Specials get abused off duty?
  21. What if you miss work because of having to be on duty as a Special?
  22. I am trying to find out about a relative who was in the Specials, can you help?
  23. Can you help me with my homework about the Police?

Note that these views are my own, as are all of those on the web site, and don't represent the views of any police force or Special Constabulary. If you have a question that isn't answered here, contact us or try the forum.

Do Specials get paid?

Some do, some don't. Scottish Specials get a bounty, in England and Wales the situation is much more varied. See this page for more detailed information: Paying Specials

How much time must I give to being a Special?

Specials are usually required to commit to 16 hours duty a month, that's equivalent to 4 hours a week. A duty at the weekend can easily run to this and to be honest there's not much point turning up to work anything less - by the time you've arrived, had a cup of tea and a chat, had your briefing and got ready to go out you'd be getting ready to go home again! Seriously though most active Specials usually perform between 8 and 12 hours a weekend, and it's no chore because it's so enjoyable. Plus you will no doubt be required to attend training which will count towards your duty hours.

It's a reasonable requirement because if you performed less hours than this then it wouldn't really be a good return on the investment in training, uniform, etc. that your force had put in. Plus you need to build experience to be safe and confident, if you're not working much then you're not going to be much use to anyone frankly!

Can I transfer from one force to another after I've joined?

It's technically possible, but can be quite a tricky and involved process. Unfortunately there's no nationally agreed standard for such transfers, and some forces are more amenable than others. You may find that the training requirements are different too, so while one force may be satisfied that you're suitable for independent patrol, the other may ask you to undertake additional duties or training. It certainly isn't something that can be done as a quick 'flip-flop' to suit those who share their time between two different parts of the country, e.g. university students.

How does being a Special affect you?

Being a Special is an incredible window on the "other side" of life, one that most people don't even know exists and which they are unlikely ever to come into contact with. You will see people at their very worst (and sometimes at their best). You will have to use your strength of character and common sense to deal with incidents ranging from missing persons to burglaries, assaults and car accidents. These experiences are of course going to change you and the way you view life. You will "harden" to them as you become more experienced, but occasionally, you will do and see things that may really upset you - like attend a fatal car crash, or help an abused child. These are times when you need the support of your family and friends to talk it through. Your police force will also offer free, confidential counselling should you ever feel you need it.

Secondly, you will quickly find that some of your friends and family will treat you differently. . . at best, this will mean almost universal leg-pulling about help with speeding tickets or whatever. At worst, some people will decide that you've done something akin to becoming a devil worshipper and won't want to know you. Well get used to the leg-pulling, that's a major part of police life! And as for those who reject you, ask yourself if you really wanted to be friends with those people anyway. You'll also find you become the acknowledged expert on all things legal, from neighbour disputes to advice on the legality of personalised number plates!

Finally, once you join the police and start working alongside colleagues, occasionally in very stressful or dangerous circumstances, you will really feel a sense of belonging and of bonding in a team. This probably sounds very "pink and fluffy" but it's an amazing feeling of being on the side of "the good guys" and really doing something that is making a difference. It's very hard to explain but you may find the police camaraderie becoming an important part of your life -- it's certainly a wonderful source of new friendships as well as lots of social events!

Being a Special is usually interesting, sometimes boring, occasionally dangerous and sometimes frustrating. But I almost always found it hugely rewarding. You need to have a robust sense of humour and plenty of common sense and to try to avoid getting too cynical - difficult sometimes!

In summary, there's no doubt that becoming a Special will change your life. You will see, hear and do things that you are unlikely ever to experience otherwise. Friends and family will treat you differently. You will become part of a team unlike any other and at times will feel an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. At the same time you will gain an insight into life that no other occupation could give you. You will be doing something worthwhile and rewarding. But you will find it hard without the support of your family so be sure you have that first.

What does it mean to be "Sworn In"?

Your swearing in will be in front of a magistrate, possibly at court but more likely at your HQ or somewhere similar. You will almost certainly be sworn in with a big group of officers, possibly regulars as well as Specials. Quite simply, it involves reciting the following oath of allegiance to the Queen:

"I [SAY YOUR NAME] do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the Office of Constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to the law. "

This is a very important oath - it summarises very elegantly what it means to be a police officer - especially "with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality". This oath was updated from 1st October 2002 to reflect the increased awareness of people's fundamental human rights.

Don't worry, you will recite it line by line as prompted so there's no need to learn it off by heart. You won't have to swear on the bible.

The swearing in will probably be followed by some sort of welcoming speech from the Chief Constable, or senior specials or regulars, and in many forces they tend to go off afterwards for photos and a bit of free food. Enjoy it - you don't get much free food in the police! You may also be able to invite your family to be present if you wish so they can see you take this solemn but exciting step.

How much time on duty is spent doing the exciting stuff we see on TV?

The very nature of police work means that it is often unpredictable and I have spent a few eight-hour shifts bored out of my tiny skull with not a job in sight! Other shifts fly by with barely a moment's rest. But a typical shift is more likely to be a mixture of jobs where you are actually doing things and a fair amount of time spent patrolling, doing paperwork, reading briefings, and sometimes just generally waiting for the next job.

Most Specials these days are being directed more towards neighbourhood policing, which is much more focussed on tackling anti-social behaviour and working with communities on long term problem solving. Even so, there will be opportunities to get involved in policing public order situations and fast time events.

It depends too on where you are based - "blues and twos" jobs are relatively few and far between for a Special in a rural location - while if you're a Special in central London then they are far more common! If you join up expecting to be flying around in police cars and saving the world every minute of every duty, then you are in for a disappointment! Have a look at my description of a typical duty - it will give you an idea at least of what we get up to (see sidebar).

Can I choose when to perform duties?

Yes, within reason - during your initial period of training you will be with a more experienced constable so you will need to align your duties with theirs. Once you've achieved independent patrol, you have more flexibility about when you work. Most forces require you to provide advance notice of when you'll be available for duty - this allows supervisors to plan and also means you will be expected when you turn up.

What is the training like?

Because most Specials are not available during the working day, either due to their full time job, or family commitments, most training is arranged for evenings and weekends, although some forces do offer an intensive week course. There will be a certain number of mandatory sessions that you must attend, these will include an induction or introduction to the police service, tour of your police station, basic law and procedure, first aid, and conflict training (use of handcuffs, baton and other equipment). You will be advised of training dates when your application is successful.

Do Specials patrol on their own?

Yes, once they have achieved independent patrol. Usually a new Special must complete a certain number of duty hours and achieve certain objectives (such as, a certain number of arrests, vehicle stop checks, searches, property seizures, crime reports, a court appearance, etc. - the list varies by force). Once these have been achieved and suitably assessed, the officer is declared 'independent' and can then carry out patrols on their own. It's a weird feeling the first time you walk out of the police station on your own - there's the feeling that anything could happen!

Can Specials drive police cars?

Yes, most forces now train Specials to drive police cars to various standards. This training is usually only offered to Specials once they have achieved independent patrol status. There is a detailed chart showing which forces allow various driving levels here

Do Specials have to get permission to arrest people?

Specials working in England and Wales are police officers with full powers. They do not have to get authorisation from a regular officer before making arrests or doing anything like that. On duty, Specials make their own decisions although operationally they typically fall under the command of regular police sergeants, or more senior Special Constables. Many Specials are independent so will sometimes work on their own out on the street, so they are making decisions for themselves based on their experience and understanding of the law.

In Scotland I guess they use specials a little differently, it's my understanding that officers always work in pairs so it seems likely that you would always be with a regular officer, or maybe a special. I can imagine circumstances where you would get split up so I don't know what happens in these cases - I guess common sense prevails!

Can Specials arrest people off duty?

Specials are issued with a warrant card just like regular officers. This is the police officer's authority to police - his or her "warrant". Without the warrant card, the officer would not be lawfully able to make arrests, etc. We have to carry ours at all times (except when in the bath of course).

Regarding off-duty powers, this is a common topic of discussion! The Home Office has confirmed that Specials have the same powers as regular officers on and off duty.

So whether a regular or a Special, you could make an off duty arrest, but it's strongly advised against and really only for emergencies. Think about it - when off-duty you wouldn't have a radio to call for help, aren't recognisable as a police officer, and the increased chances of ending up face down in the gutter mean it's really not a good idea.

It is far better in those circumstances to act as an "expert witness", dial 999 and observe from a safe distance. The exception is if someone's life is in real and immediate danger, in which case you should intervene, but only once you have called 999 and are confident that backup is on the way.

How do the regular police officers treat Specials?

Relationships between Specials and Regulars have improved enormously over the past 20 years, when - in my experience - there was very much a "them and us" mentality, Specials turned up, were briefed separately by their supervisor, went out, walked the town centre and really never had that much contact with Regulars unless it was at a specific job. As a result, there was some friction between the Specials and the Regulars, born as much as anything out of ignorance.

The situation is significantly different these days and certainly in most stations now Specials are completely integrated with their Regular colleagues. Specials turn up and are briefed and allocated as though they are Regular officers. This means much more varied duties which in turn delivers more experienced Specials who are even more able to help their Regular colleagues. In part, this much closer working relationship is because the full-time officers are very grateful for the extra officers, especially on a Friday or Saturday night.

Now it must be noted that the experiences of Specials varies widely throughout the country. Every police force will have its share of "old school" officers who will always resent Specials for any number of reasons. This will never change and has to be taken as a fact of life. These people will fall out with anyone, not just Specials! Fortunately they are a dying breed. New regular officers are working operationally with Specials almost from day one of their service, so they take it for granted - in the best sense of the phrase.

At the end of the day, how you are perceived by your colleagues, both Special and Regular, is down to you. Act like an arrogant idiot and you will quickly run out of friends. Be willing to listen and watch, eager to help, ready to learn from your mistakes and from other officers actions and above all to maintain a robust sense of humour and you are much more likely to succeed as a Special.

Will being a Special help me get into the Regulars?

It seems as though a fair few Specials these days seem to join the regulars within one or two years of joining up, so it's certainly not an unusual path to take. In fact, the Metropolitan Police (London) has declared that they will recruit almost exclusively now from the ranks of their own PCSOs and Specials, so in this case it's not only a help being a Special, it's a necessity.

There's no doubt that being a Special is a very good way of telling whether the job of a full-time police officer is for you - as a special you will be doing almost exactly the same job as the regular officers you work alongside.

You'll have the chance not only to observe and learn but also to ask questions of the people really doing the job. Of course, being a special will give you some insight into what the force is looking for, as well as much more of that all-important life experience! As a result, most specials that go on to become regulars have a pretty good idea of what they are letting themselves in for.

It's not a shoo-in though, the interviews and assessments for appointment as a regular are often just as tough whether you've been a special or not. Having said that a number of forces have offered abbreviated recruitment procedures straight from the specials into the regulars - although this isn't always on offer.

The only thing to watch out for might be that forces are getting a bit more careful about taking on Specials who aren't going to stay long -- because they invest in uniform, training etc. and they want to get typically at least a year or two out of you in return. As a result I know some forces actually ban their Specials from joining them as regulars within the first two years.

Would a Law Degree help me get into the Police?

No formal qualifications are required to join the police service either as a Special or a Regular, so someone with a degree has as much chance as someone without.

The regular police service offers the High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) that is open to all officers, providing an accelerated and guided promotion path for exceptional officers who are of Superintendent calibre. This means you can make sergeant after a couple of years, then inspector after a few more, and so on - in theory faster than if you aren't on HPDS.

Can Specials join the Traffic Department/CID/Firearms (etc.)?

These days, an increasing number of forces are targeting their Specials at resolving local problems (quality of life issues, like graffiti, underage drinking, nuisance youths etc.) rather than putting them into response or specialist roles.

Permanent attachments to specialist departments by Specials are rare, as this requires increased levels of training and commitment and few Specials can give it the time and dedication that it requires.

I am aware that some forces are allowing long-term attachments to traffic departments. You will need to check with your local force to see if they do something similar.

It's not likely to be a specialisation that is available to Specials who are new in service since you'll be required to know your stuff and have some experience under your belt. Having said that, there is still lots of fun & games to be had doing 'everyday' police work, so don't be put off!

What happens if a Special Constable gets sued?

Unfortunately it's true to say that we are living in an increasingly litigious society where people seem to go to law over the most seemingly trivial incidents. And while I don't have any official figures, it seems to me that complaints against the police are on the rise.   Having said that, I cannot think of any occasion where a Special has been sued for something they did on duty.

The Police Federation, the Police "union" representing the rights of regular police officers in the UK has historically been against Specials. More recently, however, their stance has softened considerably, and it seems as though Specials will in due course be admitted. But for the time being, while the Fed may support and defend regular officers if they are sued, it won't as a rule assist Specials beyond general advice.

In the absence of the Fed's protection, the Home Office has put together a legal insurance scheme for Specials. It provides cover to Specials for incidents arising on duty only, in the areas of Personal Injury (pursue offender for compensation), Misconduct (internal disciplinary proceedings), Legal Defence (if charged with a criminal offence) and Discrimination (if accused of sex, race or religious discrimination). However the total cover per claim is only £50,000 which won't pay for much - but it is at least better than nothing.

What if I got injured on duty as a Special Constable?

If you are injured on duty, then there is Home-Office provided insurance cover which will cover loss of earnings, etc. for some period of time - a few months rather than weeks.

As for a Special's employer - well they are not bound to release the employee to serve time in the Specials unless it's a time of war and the Specials have been called up to go full time. Otherwise the Special typically needs to do duties, etc. on their own time.

I very much doubt that a claim against a police force for an employer's expenses in finding new staff or whatever would be successful. It would be like an employer suing a swimming pool if the employee got injured there while swimming at the weekend - the employee is undertaking these activities on their own time and at their own risk, much like being a Special.

Do Specials get abused off duty?

It does happen, I'm sure, but it's rare.   I never suffered any sort of abuse or harassment off duty when I was a Special.

Such problems can usually be avoided by not performing duties where you live / work / socialise, and by taking common sense precautions - not advertising the fact that you're a Special for example by talking loudly in a pub!

What if you miss work because of having to be on duty as a Special?

Specials rely quite a lot on the goodwill of their employers - when I was a Special I was very lucky to have an extremely understanding employer (which in turn made me a happy employee - makes sense to me, why aren't more employers like this?)

I can think of a couple of reasons why the problem you describe might occur:

  • a Special is required to attend court - the employer can't stop the employee from attending, but doesn't have to pay the employee for the time. They should be able to reclaim this from their police force or the court. Plus the officer usually gets a lot of notice so they can plan accordingly and warn their employer.
  • a Special is "retained on duty" (i.e. works over their allotted time for some reason) and is either a) still on duty when they should be at work or b) unable to work because of a late finish - i.e. too tired to work properly/safely at their full-time job. In both of these cases the employer would be justified in being fed up and if necessary to take action against the employee - after all, the employee's private life should not negatively impact what their employer pays them to do.

Specials can be "called out" in case of emergency but don't have to attend if work commitments or whatever stop it. The only time they MUST attend is in time of war when Specials could be called up full time to supplement the regular force, in which case I guess all bets are off anyway.

I was advised when I first started to never arrange to do anything less than two hours after the planned end of my shift, just in case. So it's up to the officer to arrange their duties to avoid conflicts with work, wherever possible.

I am trying to find out about a relative who was in the Specials, can you help?

I don't have any sort of records or archive myself, but I think a good place to start would be the police force with which your relative served. You can find a list of contact details through the link in the sidebar.

The Police Federation represents full-time rank and file police officers in the UK, however they might maintain some sort of register of medals, etc. You can contact them via their web site (see sidebar).

Failing that you could try contacting the Home Office, who are the government department responsible for the police service in the UK and who should also hold copies of records from the war.

My final suggestion would be to post your question on our forum where many police officers both Special and Regular contribute. They may have other ideas which could help your quest.

Can you help me with my homework about the Police?

The site has loads of info about Specials and police work. I may be able to help with specific requests, but asking me is no substitute for doing your own research (Google, anybody?!)  When I was a lad the internet wasn't invented. . . tsk, kids today eh, don't know they're born.


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