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.”
Recycling plant closed after collision
LLANELLI RECYCLING CENTRE is currently closed following a road traffic collision outside.
Police and collision investigation teams are at the scene, but no further details have been made available at this stage.
Carmarthenshire Roads Policing Unit said that the location would be closed ‘until further notice’.
A spokesperson for Dyfed Powys Police said: “Dyfed-Powys Police was called to Trostre Industrial Park at 2.12pm following a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle.
“The ambulance service is also in attendance, and the road leading to the recycling centre is currently closed.”
Modern and traditional methods used by Neighbourhood Watch groups
TRADITIONAL monthly meetings and Facebook groups might seem worlds apart, but these are the methods two Carmarthenshire communities are using to keep their neighbours safe.
As part of Neighbourhood Watch Week, the long-standing Glanmor group and the newer Llwynhendy and Pemberton group have shared the secrets to their success – be it through old-school meetings or the reach of social media.
Jason Hart helped to set up the Llwynhendy and Pemberton Neighbourhood Watch group last summer following a spate of burglaries in the area. Although he admits it was slow to get off the ground using traditional means, the launch of a Facebook group saw the scheme take off.
“We still hold monthly meetings, but we found we have more of an impact on social media,” he said. “We set the Facebook group up and had over 400 members in a couple of weeks.
“A lot of people who work or who have children can’t make it to our meetings, so for them a Facebook group is ideal.”
Members are approved before joining, and can then post on the group’s timeline. Mr Hart explained that it gives people the opportunity to raise issues or concerns if they are unable to attend the evening meetings.
“They post about things like suspicious vehicles in the area, or if they have seen someone trying car doors, and we will then report it to the police,” he said. “We also feed in information from the police if something has happened, and people let us know if they have seen or heard anything.”
The success of the group is such that people living in the neighbouring community of Bryn have asked for it to expand.
Mr Hart said: “We will invite them to come along to our meetings to see how it works, and if there is enough interest they can break off and form their own group. It’s great that people think it’s working and want to see it covering their area too.”
Meetings are held from 5pm at the Bryn and Trallwm Social Club on the third Tuesday of the month, and the Facebook group can be found by searching Llwynhendy and Pemberton Neighbourhood Watch.
Over on the other side of Llanelli is the longstanding Glanmor Neighbourhood Watch group, which has been running for the past 17 years. The watch covers Nelson Terrace, Richmond Terrace, Llys yr Orsaf, Llys y Gof and part of Bryn Road, does not use social media and stands by the routine of monthly meetings.
Group coordinator John Jones said: “We had a lot of trouble in the area at that time, and everyone was complaining to me as I was a magistrate. We decided that the best way forward was to set up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme so people could meet regularly and discuss any problems in the community.
“It went from there, and we are still going 17 years later.
“The number of people who attend depends on what problems there are each month, but there is a core membership who always comes along. We aim to deal with issues straight away.”
Meetings are held at The Cambrian, in Marine Street, at 6.30pm on the first Monday of the month – unless it is a bank holiday, when it will be held the following Monday.
Sergeant Dawn Fencot-Price, of the Dyfed-Powys Police Crime and Harm Reduction Team, said: “We would like to thank both Neighbourhood Watch groups for their support in keeping our communities safe.
“It is great to see people working together in this way, sharing crime prevention messages and looking out for each other.
“We are always looking for innovative ways of keeping our communities safe. If you’re interested in setting up a Neighbourhood Watch group, or have an idea you think might work in your area, contact your local Neighbourhood Policing Team on 101.”
3,000 Welsh landlords still unregistered
JANET FINCH-SAUNDERS AM has called on the Welsh Government to urgently work to improve landlord registration under Rent Smart Wales, as estimates released indicate around 3,000 remain unregistered.
Ms Finch-Saunders said: “Rent Smart Wales estimates that still 3,000 landlords are unregistered here in Wales.
“Whilst that makes up a small percentage of our total landlords, it is most concerning for those living in properties leased to them by those who have not yet registered.
“The Welsh Government has confirmed that a landlord who is not registered with Rent Smart Wales is unable to serve a valid Section 21 eviction notice – so where unregistered landlords do indicate that they want tenants to vacate a property, this is not recognised by local housing associations, which can cause stress to tenants who may not be aware of their full rights under the law.
“By focusing on ensuring that all landlords are properly registered, the Welsh Government can alleviate such concerns, and I will be urging the Cabinet Secretary to act to ensure all landlords are abiding by this legislation in full.”
The Minister for Housing and Regeneration told Ms Finch-Saunders that the latest figures released by Rent Smart Wales show that 90,812 landlords are now registered. Rent Smart Wales’ latest estimate for the number of unregistered landlords is approximately 3,000.
This is based on the dwelling stock estimates recently published by StatsWales, and an estimation of the average number of properties owned by each landlord.
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