INSURANCE worker Joni Wilkin, 23, doesn’t think he’s anything special.
But tomorrow night he will be doing his bit to encourage others to follow in his footsteps – doing unpaid work for the good of the community and helping plug the holes appearing in one of society’s most crucial safety nets ... the police service.
“You could say it’s another kind of insurance policy,” he admits. “Both go hand in hand, especially when claims were coming in after the riots.”
After only 18 months voluntary service with the Special Constabulary under his belt, Joni, who is based in Fleetwood, has already been promoted to sergeant. He’s a special sergeant, managing a team of six specials, and hoping for another eight to pass through probationary training soon.
“I got promoted last month. Not only has all the hard work I’ve done paid off, but the investment in me by Lancashire Police.
“I’ve been trained and then sent off on leadership courses. The support I’ve had from the constabulary has been outstanding.
“I always wanted to be a full-time police officer but it just never happened and then I spoke to friends who are specials and just decided to go for it. I knew I would like it. But I never thought the career progression would be so good too.
“I’d still like to be a paid policeman and just missed out when they last recruited.”
Of the 50 new officers taken on last time, 21 were special constables.
Joni still hopes to press on with securing a paid post but at a time of cutbacks and other pressures there’s never been a better or busier time to become a special constable.
But is it policing on the cheap?
That’s not the way Joni sees it. “Basically they are not taking police on, so specials are being used more and more. It frees up regular officers for the front line stuff although we do our share of that too. It makes the police more flexible and responsive. We’re an additional resource.
“By no means are we considered second rate or inferior police officers. We have the same powers, we carry the same warrant card, wear the same uniform and are issued with the same equipment. Villains certainly don’t differentiate. Indeed most don’t notice.
“The only visible difference is our collar number. You’re still expected to give the same level of service while out there, and potentially you take the same risks.
“It’s not as if more money would be available if we weren’t doing the job. It would just be a lot harder to do the job.”
Specials police local events, take part in crime reduction projects and help challenge anti-social behaviour in our communities.
They can also bolster policing on the sharp end – helping keep the peace at rallies or demonstrations ... and riots.
Now Joni is one of the local specials stepping forward to help front the Fylde coast community campaign to enlist more people looking for a very different challenge that will give them new, and transferable, skills while making good use of their spare time. Currently more than 400 specials support Lancashire Police.
More are needed. It’s often a pathway to paid policing – whether as a police community support officer or regular police officer.
The special sergeant will be at tomorrow’s recruitment event, which starts at 7pm, at the civic centre on Breck Road, Poulton.
The force is particularly keen to enlist more to help in and around the Wyre area.
That’s Joni’s patch and he enjoys the challenge of being based in Fleetwood, a town which can take, and give, hard knocks.
“Frankly it beats anything else I could be doing in my spare time, watching telly, going to the pub, whatever. It’s really rewarding.”
A special is asked to work a minimum of four hours per week in a single shift, but the working hours are flexible so more can give more time if they can spare it. Some local companies actively support staff who wish to be a special by allowing them to cover duties in their normal working time. No formal qualifications are needed but applicants must be over 18.
Joni adds: “I personally do two nights, about 15 to 16 hours a week. The rule is you do one four hour shift a week but I do more than that. It’s about giving something back to the community. You do your four training weekends, then go out on probationary period accompanied before going out alone. It’s daunting but you’ve always got people you can call upon.
“You are assigned a neighbourhood and hook up with the local police. We do our share of carnivals, fetes, football. We fill the gaps for officers and free them for other duties. It’s a crucial support role but they are also putting more specials through public order training, too. I’m up for that. We are also out on the frontline for rallies – most pass off fairly quietly.
“Wyre’s a great area to police. It’s such a wide area and you have all the contrasts that come with it. The specials are going to get highly involved in the campaign against lead theft – that’s a big issue in Fleetwood.
“I’ve also dealt with aggressive individuals. The biggest buzz comes from helping reduce crime. We drive police vehicles around the estates, look out for drug dealers or villains, assist the regulars. I don’t begrudge the time at all. I used to love arresting criminals, locking people up, but now I enjoy getting results, following something through from start to finish or as nice as returning stolen bikes to rightful owners.
“My firm, family and friends are really supportive of what I do but my mum always says she doesn’t want to know when I’m on duty or not!”
n To register to attend tomorrow’s event contact specials co-ordinator Jen Seal via firstname.lastname@example.org or (01524) 596659.
More information on the special constabulary can be found at www.lancashire.police.uk/recruitment/special-constable.