As  part  of a new hiring drive MARION SAUVEBOIS takes a look at the role of a special constable...

GREG Satchell and Miki Sileo stand before me, uniformed officers ready for patrol.

Modesty prevails, and it takes some prodding before Greg reveals timidly he was recently involved in a successful missing person search. Miki later tells me she has made seven arrests in her six months in the force, and handled a string of fatal road accidents.

To them, these tasks are just a part of the job.

Except they don’t have a job with the force in the traditional sense of the word. They don’t draw a paycheque for their time pounding the streets, yet they still put their lives on the line to protect the community.

They are volunteers, special constables, a group that has become vital to the police. And they don’t call them 'special' for nothing.

“They give up their own time to help police and keep the residents of the county safe,” says Assistant Chief Constable Paul Mills.

“The special constabulary is an essential and important part of how we police in the county.”

“I just love the fact that I’m doing it as a volunteer,” shrugs Miki, who lives in West Swindon.

“I enjoy the variety of challenges I face on each duty. Often having to think quickly on my feet and making important decisions that really make a difference. Going home at the end of the duty knowing I have helped someone is a really enjoyable experience.”

“For me being a regular has never been a serious thought,” agrees Greg.

“A job in forensics and being a 'special' in my free time gives me the best of both worlds.”

They are among 150 special constables who volunteer across Swindon and Wiltshire on a weekly basis.

But this could soon change with a new campaign launched by Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson to train up to 500 new 'specials' over the next 18 months.

The recruitment drive aims not only to reduce crime but to forge closer and enduring links with the community, diversify the force’s pool and ensure it is “representative of the people it serves”, according to the PCC.

“Policing is everyone’s responsibility which is why it is more important than ever before that our relationship with the public is the best it can be,” he explains.

“Increasing opportunities for volunteers across the force is one of the priorities in my Police and Crime Plan and I really believe that the 'specials' will bring an array of skills, knowledge and experience to the force and help us reduce crime within our neighbourhoods.”

This potential surge in numbers from a modest to 150 to more than 500, does not “come at the expense” of paid core staff on the ground, insists Inspector Kate Priest, the development project lead for the special  constabulary.

Not only is recruitment underway for regular beat officers, she hastens to point out, but forces across the nation have historically relied on volunteers to keep citizens safe.

Although they are unpaid, at between £2.50-£3 per hour worked, including training, mentoring and equipment such as uniforms, cars and iPhones, special constables represent a significant investment for the force.

As Greg and Miki’s brief rundown of their duties highlights, special constables are no bystanders.

Unlike police community support officers (PCSOs), who have reduced powers, special constables have the same powers as police officers, including arrest, detention and search, and are thrown in the thick of it daily.

Specials, in fact, Insp Priest adds, predate the creation of PCSOs.

As such specials undergo the same training as police officers, though it is adapted to fit around demanding day jobs and family lives.

The specials' training programme in Wiltshire was recently overhauled to give candidates even more flexibility to learn through a virtual classroom and “webinars”.

“In policing, every day is different. We never know what we are going to face or what skills we might need,” says Insp Priest.

“We recognise it has not always been the easiest process to join the special constabulary so we have made changes to the way we recruit, train and develop officers. 

“We have streamlined the recruitment and training process to make it easier for the public to join.

"Special constables give their time to Wiltshire Police and the communities of Wiltshire and Swindon week after week for free. As a force we recognise the huge value of this. 

“This is a two-way relationship and we wanted to make sure we are doing our part to say thank you, and part of this is offering our 'specials' the chance of enhanced development alongside regular officers.”

The initial training takes about 12 weeks. After a rigorous exam, they are deployed and mentored up to nine months before finally being signed off for independent patrol.

Special constables are expected to volunteer a minimum of 16 hours a month, although some like Greg get closer to the 60-hour mark despite working full-time as a forensic scientist for another police force.

Greg, 26, from West Swindon, was a student when he first spotted an advert calling for members of the public to volunteer.

“At the time I was at university studying a degree in forensic science, and was looking for opportunities to learn more about the police force to help me develop my knowledge about forensics,” says Greg, who joined three and half years ago and is now a sergeant specialising in roads policing. 

“Sometimes, I don’t know how I fit it all in, it just seems to work. My paid work has a fairly standard shift pattern and I can look at when my team is on duty and, with enough notice, I can sometimes alter my rest days to coincide with their shifts.”

Some callouts have been distressing, he admits. Over the past three years, Greg has dealt with a range of violent crimes, assaults, harrowing traffic accidents, sudden deaths and even a hanging.

His previous job as an auxilliary nurse has proved especially helpful and, coupled with his thorough police training, allowed him to keep a cool head handling particularly traumatic and gruesome cases.

“I dealt with that side of it as an auxiliary nurse and I’ve worked in ambulances so I’ve seen and dealt with trauma,” he says casually.

“We know we’ve got support available if we need it. Wiltshire Police have put their trust in me, they’ve given me a lot of training and responsibility and I want to give back to the force and help people.”

Like him Miki juggles her volunteer role with a demanding full-time post as general manager for contract caterers at the Great Western and John Radcliffe hospitals.

Not only that, but the 47-year-old quit her job and uprooted her life from Wales for the sole purpose of joining Wiltshire Police as a special constable.

“Wiltshire Police struck me as more community focused,” explains Miki, who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 2009.

“I thought I could offer valuable support and advice to people in our neighbourhoods and make a difference by having a positive impact on all of those who I meet.”

She has gone far beyond the call of duty, totting up 400 hours in her six months on the programme.

“Putting in a few more hours than the minimum 16 hours a month really helps to maintain the knowledge you learn from training, and builds your confidence when out dealing with challenging situations,” she adds.

“For me it has helped making a weekly commitment, volunteering for a wider range of shifts and events, being flexible with shift patterns so I can experience a variety of policing.”

Joining the 'specials' has clearly been a hugely rewarding experience for the pair and while they are keen to focus on the positive and their own personal growth there is no getting around the dangerous nature of the job.

As project lead for the special constabulary, Insp Priest is keenly aware of the sacrifice required of 'specials' and the risks they take out of sheer devotion for the community they live in.

“The value special constables add to policing is difficult to count,” she says.

”What they do for the community is enormous. It’s absolutely outstanding.”

To find out more about the eligibility criteria or apply visit or call 01793 317 322.