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Volunteers taking on police roles as cuts continue to bite

Cash-strapped police forces are filling some key job vacancies with unpaid volunteers amid ongoing cutbacks, says a report published today (Friday) by UNISON.

The number of police support volunteers (PSVs) being used across England and Wales has soared to more than 6,000 – the equivalent of a 15% rise – in just four years from 2014 to 2017, according to the report Crossing the Line.

Yet the number of paid police staff including Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) has dropped by 4,177 – or 5% – from 80,749 to 76,572 over a similar period, according to government figures.

The increasing reliance on unpaid staff highlights the financial pressures forces face, warns UNISON.

The findings are based on freedom of information data from 32 forces including Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. This shows that 6,596 PSVs were registered with those forces who responded in (July) 2017 compared with 5,739 in (January) 2014.

Crossing the Line highlights how volunteers’ work includes operational roles that carry a high level of responsibility such as assisting crime teams, helping to recover DNA and being involved in supporting victims.

In some forces, PSVs now account for a significant number of the overall workforce. Hampshire constabulary has the highest percentage (35%) of PSVs, and in Devon and Cornwall they represent a quarter of the total police workforce.

The concern is that forces are using PSVs in operational roles without being able to deploy them in emergencies. This is because they do not have a contract of employment so cannot be relied upon in to turn out in these situations, says UNISON.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The increasing reliance on volunteers threatens to put the police and the public at risk.

“The concern is they’re being taken on partly to compensate for the loss of tens of thousands of paid police staff and officers as a result of government cuts.

“Volunteers can be valuable to police forces, especially in building bridges with communities. But they should never be used as a replacement for highly trained and properly vetted police staff.

“With serious and violent crime on the rise, the public want to know that their police force has the resources to fight crime. And this doesn’t mean having to rely on volunteers giving their time up for free.”

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