Richard Taylor Cambridge on volunteering to help the police

“We’ve got volunteers doing all sorts of things in Cambridgeshire Police. We’ve got people looking at CCTV in Ely, we’ve got people monitoring ANPR. We’ve got the SpeedWatch volunteers and the people who use speed guns and prompt people to be sent warning letters. We’ve got all sorts of volunteers.”

arrest09:24 Tuesday 1st December 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Do you fancy becoming Cambridgeshire’s next big detective? Well our county’s police force could be about to make your dream come true. Cambridgeshire Police have placed adverts for a couple of jobs that it wants members of the public to fill. The first job is for a volunteer detective to find stolen property, whilst the second role is to wash it’s patrol cars at Cambridge police station. Seriously though, is this the future? Is this .. as budgets continue to be stretched, is this the future? Should we do more to patrol our own communities? Are you helping? Have you helped the police? Is this Cameron’s Big Society in action here? Citizens on Patrol. Should there be a People of Peterborough Police Force or a Cambridge Residents Constabulary? Well Richard Taylor is a political blogger from Cambridge and has put this story online and well many many people have commented already Richard. Morning.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So Citizens on Patrol. We’re all doing our bit Richard. What a good thing that is. Big Society.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well volunteers have been a core part of policing for as long as we’ve had a police force in this country with the Special Constabulary. The Special Constabulary are volunteers, and they’ve got the full powers of a police constable. And recently one of the things our Police and Crime Commissioner here in Cambridgeshire has done is try to increase the number of Special Constables. And he’s aiming to get us up to a couple of hundred Special Constables in the area. So volunteers are at the core of our policing already. But I was quite surprised when I saw some of these jobs that .. or roles that have been publicised by Cambridgeshire Police, particularly this one essentially the burglary detective.
PAUL STAINTON: The Lovejoy slash Poirot detective.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Yes that was the kind of thing which I expected a professional experienced detective would be doing, going round to antique shops or searching for maybe stolen bikes at some of the shops that sell second hand bikes in Cambridge. It didn’t strike me as the kind of thing which would be suited to a volunteer. But I think volunteering is .. we’ve got volunteers doing all sorts of things in Cambridgeshire Police. We’ve got people looking at CCTV in Ely, we’ve got people monitoring ANPR. We’ve got the SpeedWatch volunteers and the people who use speed guns and prompt people to be sent warning letters. We’ve got all sorts of volunteers. But we shouldn’t be replacing established jobs I don’t think. We shouldn’t be asking people to do jobs which would otherwise be done by police staff or otherwise be done by detectives.
PAUL STAINTON: So that’s your beef here basically. You think this volunteer is replacing what should be traditional detective work.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well that’s where I think we should draw a line. And we certainly shouldn’t be responding to cuts in funding to police by replacing established employed people, employed officers and employed staff with volunteers. But I think volunteers in policing and elsewhere in the public services are actually a great thing. I think one of the problems we’ve got with policing is that when people join the Police it’s a bit like they feel they’ve joined a gang, they’ve joined a clique. And I think we’ve actually been seeing a bit of a change in the attitude of policing over the last few years. As the police do more talking to the public and meet the public we’ve actually seen that attitude from the Police that they’re separate from the public, and in some ways it’s kind of the public are the enemy and they’re working against the public I think we’ve seen that change. And if we could get more volunteers into .. into policing and properly integrate them .. I don’t think getting someone in for a couple of hours a week to wash the cars at Cambridgeshire Police Station really is fully integrating. I think we’ve had some problems with Special Constables in Cambridgeshire and around the country in the way that they’re treated by regular officers. But if we can properly integrate some people into the force, for example getting people to patrol their own villages as Special Constables, have a good relationship with the police, I think we could change the nature of policing and actually bring the public into it and break down that divide.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s not necessarily a bad thing. And more and more as the cuts bite. Are we as a community going to have to do more do you think?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I don ‘t know whether that in Cambridgeshire we have actually kept .. we’ve kept up police constable numbers, even though of course the county is growing, we’re getting more people in the county so that’s not quite as good as it first sounds. But it’s not been so bad here. But I think actually if we can do the extras, the things like Special Constables patrolling their own village, that’s something that perhaps you wouldn’t do if you .. or the police say they can’t do when they’re focusing on reducing harm and so it won’t put the resources into just people on patrol. Because that’s actually a very expensive way to give people a reassurance that their area is being policed. But if someone can do it as a volunteer then they can do something positive for their local community. But I think it’s important that we don’t just get retired police officers and ex-military people, and the kind of people who are sort of already in the police force in those roles. I know one of the challenges is when lots of people volunteer to do something within the police, but if you’re giving someone huge powers as a Special Constable, or in the case of this role in Cambridgeshire giving them access to police databases, and the ANPR role as well, giving people access to databases containing quite sensitive information, you’ve got to pick the right people. But we’ve got to be .. I think we should .. they should look a bit broader than just their own ex-officers and ex-military people and really try and bring in people from throughout the community, so we can get back to this idea that actually we are essentially a self-policing nation, we can all get involved in policing. And that might .. we’ve got to challenge and tackle some of the things that make people feel there is a divide and the police are working against them. Things like tackling motorists who are speeding just a little bit over the speed limit and tackling people for anti-social behaviour. I think if the police were focused on serious crime, things that cause injury and things that really cause upset like burglary, then you’d have massive support for policing. And if we could bring people in I think we would all work together to tackle things that really cause us problems in Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: Richard, thank you. Richard Taylor, political blogger from Cambridge who’s had much to say already on a story that’s gone viral actually. It’s all across the internet. Cambridgeshire Police advertising for a Volunteer Detective to find stolen property, another to wash patrol cars at Cambridge Police Station.