Special Constabulary

Special Constabulary

The Special Constabulary is the part-time volunteer section of a statutory police force in the United Kingdom or some Crown dependencies. Its officers are known as Special Constables (all hold the office of Constable no matter what their rank) or informally as Specials.

Every United Kingdom territorial police force has a special constabulary except the Police Service of Northern Ireland, where it is called the Reserve. However, the Royal Ulster Constabulary did have its own Ulster Special Constabulary. The British Transport Police (a "special police force") also has a special constabulary. In the Crown dependencies, the Isle of Man Constabulary and the States of Guernsey Police Service also have Special Constabularies, but the States of Jersey Police does not.

The strength of the special constabulary during 2005 in England and Wales was 13,000. [Peter Fahy, ACPO lead on the Special Constabulary & Chief Constable of Cheshire Police, Specials Magazine (Autumn 2005)] Special Constables are not the same as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who are employed by police forces to provide operational support to regular officers, but with no powers of arrest beyond those of ordinary citizens. Special Constables usually work for a minimum of 16 hours per month (or 200 per year), although many do considerably more. Special Constables might receive some expenses and allowances from the police service, including a £1000 "recognition award" in Scotland, and some forces in England, but their work is otherwise voluntary and unpaid.

Special Constables have identical powers to their regular (full-time) colleagues and work alongside regular police officers, but most Special Constabularies in England and Wales have their own organisational structure and grading system, which varies from force to force; Special Constabularies are headed by a Commandant or Chief Officer, who are themselves Special Constables. Within Scotland, a number of forces in England and Wales, and the British Transport Police, Special Constables have no separate administrative structure and no grading system.


While the idea of a populace policing itself dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, with English Common Law requiring that all citizens have the legal obligation to come to the assistance of a police officer, it was not until 1673, when Charles II ruled that citizens may be temporarily sworn in as constables during times of public disorder. This ruling was in response to rising public disorder relating to enforcement of religious conformity, and any citizen refusing to acknowledge the call would have been subject to fines and jail sentences. The 1673 act was enforced for centuries after, mainly used to call up constables in the north of England. [http://www.policespecials.com/history/history.htm Police Specials website: history (accessed 3 November 2006)] ]

Public disorder of that nature was renewed during the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, which was coupled with falling living standards and starvation. In 1819, mass meetings calling for Parliamentary reform took place across England, including 60,000 demonstrators rioting in Manchester where a special constable was killed. In light of these events, in 1820, an act was passed allowing magistrates to recruit men as special constables.

In 1831, Parliament passed "An act for amending the laws relative to the appointment of Special Constables, and for the better preservation of the Police" [http://www.policespecials.com/history/history.htm PoliceSpecials.com - History of the Special Constabulary ] ] . This act, forming the basis of special constable principles to the modern day, and in particular allowed the formation of special constables outside of times of unrest, if the regular police force was deemed to be too small in a particular area. Specials were also granted full powers of arrest like their regular counterparts at this time, as well as weapons and equipment to carry out their duty.

A further act in 1835 redefined the Special Constabulary as a volunteer organisation, and expanded its jurisdiction. The Constabulary was redefined for the last time into the organisation which exists today during World War I, where they were instructed to safeguard water supplies from German infiltrators.


Requirements for being a special constable varying from force to force. It can take from as few as six to as many as eighteen months from initial application through to Attestation where recruits take the Police Oath. Applicants must pass a security check (which is generally the longest process, as the checks have to be sent away to be completed), followed by a written Police Initial Recruitment Test (PIRT; identical to that taken by regulars), an interview normally held with two or three current officers and/or civilian staff, and a medical assessment. Some forces now require a fitness test, which may or may not be as strict as that given to regulars.

Uniform and insignia

Special Constables generally wear identical uniforms to their regular colleagues.In some constabularies, their shoulder number may be prefixed with a certain digit or they may have additional insignia on their epaulettes which is usually a crown with the letters SC underneath it (although some forces just use the letters). Formerly, male special constables in English and Welsh forces did not wear helmets while on foot patrol but wore patrol caps instead, but in most forces they now do wear helmets. Some forces also issue special constables with a different hat badge from that of their regular counterparts although this is now extremely rare.

Within the City of London Special Constabulary is the Honourable Artillery Company Specials, [ [http://www.hac-specials.org.uk The HAC Special Constabulary website] ] members of this unit wear HAC on the shoulders in addition to other insignia.


Special Constables all carry the same personal protective equipment (PPE) as their regular counterparts, such as handcuffs, batons, incapacitant spray (CS spray, Pepper spray, or in some forces a solution called PAVA spray) and protective vests.

The issuing of equipment varies from force to force with financial factors being the main reason behind the differences. In some forces protective vests, or body armour, may be personally issued to an officer, made to measure, however many other forces cannot afford this practice and instead the use of pool sets is prevalent. The same practice is also seen with regard to radios: although many forces provide Special Constables with personal radios that they keep in their locker, other forces may only have pool sets.

For example, the MPS, in London, issues made to measure protective vests, called "MetVests" to every officer, but pools radios. This makes sense because to be protective, while allowing movement, vests have to fit snugly. But given radios are all the same and only a small percentage of Specials Constables in a borough are on duty at any time it makes sense to draw these from a pool. The management task is to ensure there are enough working pooled radios available in a borough to meet any "surge" need.

Powers and jurisdiction

Special Constables attested in England and Wales have jurisdiction throughout England and Wales both on and off duty, in the same way as their regular counterparts. Prior to 1 April 2007, they only had jurisdiction within their force area and any adjacent force areas.

In Scotland, Special Constables are "members of a police force" as defined by the Police Scotland (Act) 1967 and have full powers on or off duty throughout Scotland. [ [http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?LegType=All+Legislation&title=police+scotland&Year=1967&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&sortAlpha=0&TYPE=QS&PageNumber=1&NavFrom=0&parentActiveTextDocId=1889977&ActiveTextDocId=1889977&filesize=446718 Scottish Statue Law (accessed 26/03/07)] ]

Special Constables of the British Transport Police (BTP) have identical jurisdiction to regular Constables of the British Transport Police, which is a full jurisdiction on the railway network throughout Great Britain and a conditional jurisdiction in any other force area. However, a legal view is held by some that the amendments to the Police Act 1996 that gave nationwide powers to Special Constables in England and Wales also applies to BTP Special Constables, as the wording of the Act did not make any differentiation between the type of Special Constable. If this is the case, it would give them unconditional jurisdiction off of railway property and more powers than a regular BTP Officer.


Within recent years the role of Special Constables has changed dramatically and they are now increasingly used alongside their regular colleagues to perform almost all police duties. As well as patrol duties, they often take part in response duties and specials often police events such as sports matches, carnivals, parades and fêtes. While this event policing is the stereotypical image of a Special Constable, it only represents one of the wide range of duties undertaken. Many police Forces in England and Wales have introduced Neighbourhood Policing Teams and the Special Constabulary has been incorporated into this concept. [Commitment to the Community, 'Specials' Magazine published by Story worldwide for the Home Office (Summer 2006)]

The City of London Police recruits accountancy specialists to work directly for its Fraud Squad.

Special operations

Many Special Constables have taken the opportunity to join specialist teams within their constabularies such as marine support, dog units and roads policing. Warwickshire Police [Special Beat] has for a number of years been training some of its Specials to work with the Road Policing Unit, including response driving; this has been expanded and some Specials are now working with the force's Criminal Intercept Team. [Specials magazine Autumn 2006]

In 1995, SCs from Cheshire Police assisted officers from the Ministry of Defence Police with a surveillance operation at the former Royal Ordnance Factory at Radway Green near Crewe. [Special Beat magazine (produced on behalf of the Home Office for Special Constabulary members in England & Wales), no longer in print]

Public order

As with their full-time counterparts, many Special Constables are trained in public order duties, including policing of football matches and demonstrations. In West Yorkshire Police, 24 Specials have received Level 2 PSU - Police Support Unit training, and have become part of the 'Operation Target' team. [Specials magazine Autumn 2005] Operation Target has now disbanded, but West Yorkshire Police have kept the service of the specials in their own Operational Support Unit.


Historically, Special Constables were often looked down upon by regular officers and resented, as they were sometimes seen as 'hobby bobbies' and not proper police officers, and were often considered to be preventing regular officers from earning overtime pay. Nowadays, they now have a much closer relationship with the regular police (many regular officers now having started their police careers as Specials) and are a supplement to understaffed police forces. [Operational officer]

A sizeable proportion of regular officers have served as Special Constables before joining the regular force, which is encouraged by recruitment departments. Most police forces will accept applications from the age of 18; and the minimum age to commence training is 18.

Allowing Special Constable to be paid for their work has been a contentious issue, with mixed comments from all sides, with some people thinking that as specials are doing much the same job as regular officers they should be paid the same, but others thinking that this would attract the 'wrong' type of person (those motivated by monetary gain as opposed to those who are community minded).

ee also

*Canadian Auxiliary Constable
*Auxiliary police
*British police
*Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force
*MASHAZ - Israel's special constabulary
*Metropolitan Police
*Metropolitan Special Constabulary
*Police Support Unit
*Singapore Police Force
*Special constable
*Special police
*UK police ranks
*Volunteer Special Constabulary - Singapore


External links

* [http://www.policespecials.com Community site for Special Constables]
* [http://specials.homeoffice.gov.uk Home Office Special Constabulary website]

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