Famous and Fighting Crime: interesting… but flawed

By Matt Callender

Famous and Fighting Crime is a new 4-part series where five celebrities (Katie Piper, Penny Lancaster, Sandi Bogle, Marcus Brigstocke and Jamie Laing) are put on the frontline alongside Specials and PCs from Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

I must admit, when I first heard about the new Channel 4 documentary I was more apprehensive than optimistic. There’s some negativity surrounding police support volunteers (PSVs) where they’re sometimes viewed as not capable, poorly trained and not ‘real’ police. My fear was that this programme would feed this negativity and hamper positive change.

My general thoughts on the first episode are mixed, but I am interested to see more. On a positive note, the episode was engaging and highlighted some of the dangers volunteers and officers face on the frontline. It had a good Channel 4 documentary feel about it, with a good mix of action, behind-the-scenes insights and reflections on what being a police officer or volunteer is all about. The episode positions celebs as special constables, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Special constables are warranted volunteer officers, holding equivalent powers to paid constables. Also, the episode does little to highlight the vast array of volunteering opportunities within policing. Our work in the IPSCJ shows that there are some 1,120 PSV role profiles across the forty-four police forces.

This mis-representation is borne out when showing the celebs receiving their ‘intensive’ training. I don’t understand why so little effort was made to distinguish special constables from the celeb volunteers. Viewers could be forgiven for assuming it’s possible to be out chasing suspects following a one-day training course if they wanted to be a special constable. In the celebrities’ training, they role-played examples of confrontation, aggression and personal risk exposure, which are difficult to handle, but they only scratched the surface of the knowledge required to fulfil the role of special constable. Specials receive significantly more training over an extended period, involving classroom and scenario-based sessions. Following this, special constables sign-off with supervision a series of competencies to demonstrate their ability to fulfil the role. Only then can they attain ‘Independent Patrol Status’. The implication of this mis-representation may be significant, serving to de-legitimise special constables as inauthentic officers.

I was also surprised that the celebs were on active jobs so quickly, especially in a relatively independent capacity. I wonder about the liability if something went wrong. For instance, in one scene Penny Lancaster chases two suspects with a history of violence following allegations of shoplifting involving threats of violence using needles. When starting the chase alongside a special, the suspects split in different directions and Penny is instructed to “get her” independently. Whilst making for entertaining television, this was surprising given the reality that the suspect may have been armed. I recognise such situations might be the norm for frontline response officers but not for an individual with one days’ training.

Notwithstanding these points, the show does expose the viewers to a range of diverse, committed individuals who serve in the special constabulary. For me, these are the real stars of the show, who look like, sound like, and are real police.

Each of the celebs should be commended, as the reality of being on the frontline is unpredictable and contains significant personal risk. It clearly takes courage to participate in a show like this, but it takes a certain form of courage and dedication to become a special constable and volunteer one’s personal time – often alongside professional work and family life – for a sustained period.

Overall, my fears about this show were not realised and I’m intrigued to watch more. I hope that as the series progresses, more insight is given to the rich diversity of volunteering roles available within policing.

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