WHEN Mark Collins put on his volunteer police uniform for the first time in 1987, he could never have guessed that 29 years later he would be walking through the doors of Dyfed-Powys Police headquarters as the chief constable.
Mr Collins has worked his way up the ranks from a PC to the chief constable, but his policing career actually began as an unpaid officer volunteering his time to the force he now leads.
As the force celebrates National Volunteers Week, Mr Collins looks back over the four years he spent in the Special Constabulary and reveals what the police service gains from its team of volunteer officers.
Inspired in part by conversations with local officers in the Carmarthenshire village he grew up in, and partly from watching dramatic incidents unfold on TV series The Bill, Mr Collins was keen to join the police service as a teenager.
He decided firstly to enrol as a Special Constable so he could gain an insight into the role of a PC, and to find out if it was the right career for him.
“I thought I wanted to be a police officer, but not being from a policing background I wanted to find out what it was really like first,” he said.
“It was great to get in and see how the police worked – the roles and responsibilities of an officer, and the variety of things they dealt with. Having joined as a Special, it made me more hungry to join as a regular officer.”
After completing his initial training, Mr Collins went out on his first patrol shift as a Special Constable, supported by a regular officer.
“I spent my first shift travelling around north Carmarthen with Rhian Thomas, a rural officer, going to a number of calls,” he said.
“One memory that stands out is when we visited an elderly lady just outside Carmarthen. We dealt with some problems she had, and it turned out that she was a lady in her own right. We must have made an impact because she then invited us to a garden party.
“Knowing that you have helped someone is hugely rewarding, and as a Special it meant a lot to receive that invitation.”
A milestone for all officers is making their first arrest, and Mr Collins remembers his clearly. He was called to a report of a theft from a supermarket in Carmarthen, and arrested the culprit on the spot.
But he admits he was feeling a mixture of emotions as he put his training into practice.
“I was excited, but also nervous and anxious,” he said. “Was I going to get it right? Was I going to present the evidence to the custody sergeant correctly? It was a big deal, and something I definitely didn’t want to get wrong.”
Considering the perception of Specials, Mr Collins said a lot had changed over the years, with people’s attitudes towards volunteer officers becoming more positive, and more opportunities being opened up to volunteer officers.
Specials at Dyfed-Powys Police have worked on a mental health triage team, established the Specials on horseback scheme, and piloted a joint response unit with the Wales Ambulance Service over the Christmas period when demand increases on both services.
“If I’m honest, the training for Specials in the 80s wasn’t that good, and the support wasn’t that good,” Mr Collins said. “Regulars used to call them hobby bobbies back in the day, and they would only attend fetes and carnivals. You would occasionally get to walk the beat, but you didn’t have all the kit and equipment that we have now.
“We have moved on so much. We have a rank structure within the Special Constabulary, Specials are on the frontline with the same powers as fully warranted officers; they are better equipped; they carry out stop searches and warrants; and play an important part in policing operations.
“We recognise the specialist skills people can bring in from other jobs and the qualities they can bring to the force without needing to join as regular officers.”
Specials must be aged over 18, and must commit to a minimum of 16 hours each month to the force. While Mr Collins accepts that for many it is a way in to the police service, he would like to see more people apply with the aim of becoming ‘career Specials’ – those who are happy to continue as volunteers alongside their day-to-day roles.
“I would like people to see it as a way of supporting their communities, rather than as part of an aspiration to join the police service,” he said.
“It is a chance to do something different. There is so much reality TV, things like 24 Hours in Police Custody and Police Interceptors, and people are drawn in by the cut and thrust of policing – the fast response, blue lights flashing side of things.
“But policing isn’t all about that – there are the 2am patrols, traumatic incidents like attending sudden deaths or collisions, breaking the news that loved ones have passed away. Specials get the chance to dip into all that without giving up their day jobs.”
“For me, volunteering as a Special was the start of my policing career.
“Putting on your uniform for the first time is quite something, and it was a proud moment for both me and my family. And while I joined with aspirations of becoming a regular officer and a detective, never did I think when I walked through the doors of headquarters for the first time that I would walk back in 29 years later as the chief constable.”
Cold temperatures likely to lead to icy conditions
A YELLOW weather warning is in place over Wales from 10pm tonight (Jan 16) and 11am tomorrow morning (Jan 17).
As temperatures drop, there is a strong chance of ice patches causing dangerous conditions for motorists.
Icy patches developing with wintry showers also affecting some areas.
What to expect
- Some injuries from slips and falls on icy surfaces
- Probably some ice on some untreated roads, pavements and cycle paths
Police target burglary suspects in dawn raids
SIXTEEN addresses have been raided by police in an operation responding to a spate of high-value burglaries in the south Wales area.
Officers targeted locations in Fforest-Fach, Clase, Morrison, Brynhyfryd and Bonymaen following a year of thefts in the city and Neath Port Talbot.
Operation Timmia also saw locations in Swansea citry centre targeted by South Wales Police.
Six people have been arrested and remain in custody, The Llanelli Herald has been told.
The large scale operation used the police helicopter, forensics teams, financial investigators and cash-detecting dogs.
Police seized three caravans, a cannabis cultivation, large amounts of cash and jewellery, and a number of other items believed to be linked to crimes.
Detectives said those arrested are being held on suspicion of several offences, including conspiracy to commit burglary.
They have also issued an appeal to trace a further four suspects: Daniel Casey, 27; Terrence Casey, 19; Michael Casey, 18; and Patrick Joyce, 20.
All four men have links with the travelling community and are known to travel throughout the UK, said police.
“We know the recent spates of burglaries and car thefts across the division has been of real concern in our local communities and I hope the scale of this morning’s enforcement action reassures the public that we do take the matter seriously and that we are fully committed to bringing those responsible to justice,” said Det Insp Dave Peart.
“We now have a number of individuals in custody and enquiries are ongoing to locate a number of outstanding suspects.”
As part of the raids, officers searched an industrial unit in the Fforestfach area of the city, and nine caravans on Millstream Way traveller site.
The force said the investigation follow what has been described as a “high number of burglaries and aggravated burglaries in the past year”.
In some instances, homeowners were confronted by armed gangs who either threatened or inflicted violence.
Supt Cath Larkman added: “During some of the recent burglaries we’ve seen an increasing use of, or willingness to use, violence, so today’s action was absolutely proportionate and necessary to protect the public from further criminality and potential harm.”
Band leader sexually assaulted 14-year-old cadet
THE LEADER of an Army cadet band turned a kitchen into a sauna and sexually assaulted a naked teenage boy.
And Philip Pryor, now 65, used a British Legion computer to download child pornography.
Pryor, of Llys y Llyfgell, Burry Port, has been jailed for two and a half years.
Swansea Crown Court heard how Pryor had been the leader of an Army cadet band in Burry Port, which attracted members from across west Wales, as well as being a branch secretary for the British Legion.
Robin Rouch, prosecuting, said the Army had a hut in Burry Port which the band used for rehearsals and some cadets slept there, as did Pryor, before a concert.
A man who was a 14-year-old cadet at the time told police how Pryor would boil pans of water and place towels around doors and windows and turn the kitchen into a sauna.
Boys were encouraged to take off their clothes, as did Pryor.
On at least three occasions he touched the boy indecently, said Mr Rouch.
The victim did not complain until many years later after he had seen a television news item about young footballers being abused and confided in a friend about what had happened to him.
He later told police that at the time Pryor, who had played in a military band while serving in the Army, had told him that because of his standing in the community there was no point in complaining as no-one would believe him.
Mr Rouch said a police investigation began and officers removed a British Legion computer used by Pryor and found he had downloaded a small number of indecent images of schoolboys.
Pryor admitted three offences of indecent assault and one of possessing child pornography.
His barrister, Frank Phillips, said Pryor was now remorseful and ashamed and had lived as a recluse since his arrest.
Judge Geraint Walters told Pryor he had been in a position of trust.
“You targeted him and abused him more than once.
“The fact that he went to the police so many years later demonstrates the long lasting effect of what you did to him. It has never left him.
“It shows the wickedness of an adult taking advantage of a youngster.
“There was some grooming here in that you allowed him to have alcohol and cigarette.
“I accept you have led a blameless life since the offending but it is not possible for me to pass a sentence that could be suspended,” he added.
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