Building an evidence base for ‘what works’ in police volunteering

By Dr Iain BrittonLead Researcher for the IPSCJ Centre for Citizens in Policing. 

Yesterday (26th Jan), I presented the Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice research programme into police volunteers and special constables at an event at Northamptonshire Police Headquarters, attended by representatives from police forces and PCC offices across the UK.

Northamptonshire Police has more than doubled its special constabulary over the last couple of years, from 270 to 630, with an ambition to reach a target figure of 900 by May 2016. As would be expected, this significant growth has required new ways of working across recruitment, training, supervision and so on. The event provided some insight into the challenges faced by policing leads in delivering this new workforce.

This ambitious agenda requires information, data and insight at every step of the programme, and being a test bed for new ideas and new approaches has provided a great opportunity to build on the limited evidence-base of ‘what works’ in growing, developing and maintaining Special Constabularies as a significant proportion of the police workforce.

Northamptonshire Police have taken new and innovative approaches to marketing, the application process, assessment centres, training and management of specials, meaning that there are now a broad range of new experiences to learn from. This will allow us to uncover the motivations of those who volunteer, what they expect from the role, how the reality meets those expectations, and how confidence and competency levels can be improved.

This is a significant moment for policing volunteers and specials.  It is a time of substantial commitment, ambition, investment, and innovation.  But there are real limitations in the available evidence-base for how to maximise the impact of volunteers and specials, and how to make the experience of volunteering the best one that it can possibly be for each and every person who gets involved.

Despite the scale of growth and innovation being driven across many forces, and prioritised by a sizeable number of Police and Crime Commissioners, there is very limited systematic analysis and evaluation of which approaches work best, little assessment of the overall success of volunteer programmes or of the critical success factors.  And there is very limited sharing and learning across forces around the whole volunteers and specials agenda.

Police volunteering is arguably core to the future of police reform, which will only contribute to the demands on police services – we need to build knowledge and learn the science behind effective recruitment, training, development, supervision and retention of volunteers. This is what the IPSCJ’s Centre for Citizens in Policing is all about – developing evidence-based tools and approaches to improve the experience, impact and contribution of police volunteers and special constables in delivering policing services.

There is an immediate need for in-depth, qualitative insight through engaging those who volunteer, to ensure we truly understand and appreciate the volunteering experience directly through the eyes of those who actually experience it. We are also adopting a rigorous, scientific approach to analysing the activity and contributions of volunteers and specials, marketing and recruitment data, volunteer cohort data, costs and benefits, skills and capability, culture and relationships, and strategy and leadership.

To talk more about the Centre for Citizens in Policing, please feel free to get in touch by clicking here.