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Chief Constable looks back over four years as a volunteer officer

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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.”

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Four arrested after mobile phone thefts

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE have arrested four people in connection with two recent thefts of mobile phones from shops in Llanelli and Carmarthen.

At around 7.15pm on Monday (Aug 13) four Apple iPhones were stolen from the Currys PC World store at Parc Pemberton, Llanelli.

10 mobile phones were stolen in a second incident which took place at roughly 9.30am on Tuesday (Aug 14) in the Carphone Warehouse store at St Catherine’s Walk, Carmarthen.

Dyfed-Powys Police strongly believe the incidents to be linked. In both instances, three men, each thought to be in their twenties, made threats to staff members and stole mobile phones.

Dyfed-Powys Police released a statement on Tuesday, saying: “Earlier this evening we arrested three males and one female in connection with the theft of mobile phones from the Carphone Warehouse store in Carmarthen, this morning. It is believed that this may be connected to other thefts at shops in Llanelli, Swansea and Merthyr yesterday and today.

“The vehicle was identified and monitored by police, before we located it at the Elan Valley Reservoir. Property has been recovered and the individuals are now in police custody.

“Officers would like to extend their thanks to those at the Elan Valley Reservoir for their assistance in locating the individuals.

“Please be mindful that criminal proceedings are now active – be cautious when making any comments here.”

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Police investigating mobile phone thefts

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TWO incidents of recent thefts of mobile phones from stores in Llanelli and Carmarthen are being investigated by Dyfed-Powys Police.

Four Apple iPhones were stolen from Currys & PC World store at Parc Pemberton, Llanelli, at around 7.15pm on Monday, August 13.

A second incident took place at the Carphone Warehouse store at St Catherine’s Walk, Carmarthen on Tuesday, August 14, at around 9.30am where 10 mobile phones were stolen.

They are strongly believed to be linked.

In both incidents, three men – believed to be in their 20s – made threats to staff and stole mobile phones.

In the Llanelli incident, one of the suspects was white, medium build, around 5’5” and was wearing a black jacket, grey trousers and a black baseball hat.

The second suspect is white, slim build, around 5’8” with a beard. He was wearing a white T-shirt, black knee length shorts, white trainers and a black baseball cap with a red stripe to side and emblem.

The third man involved is white, slim build, 6’ with a beard. He was wearing a bright blue long-sleeved T-shirt, black shorts, white trainers and a black baseball cap with a red stripe to side and emblem.

In the Carmarthen incident, the three men were wearing light coloured clothing, shorts, trainers and baseball caps.

DI Wayne Bevan said: “Anyone who witnessed either of these incidents, or saw three men matching these descriptions behaving suspiciously in the area, to contact police immediately by calling 101.

“We are investigating all lines of enquiry to catch these offenders and any support from the public could help us find these men and put a stop to any further incidents in our town centre stores.”

Anyone with information that can help officers with their investigation is asked to report it by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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Consultation on future of gas network for west Wales enters final week

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PEOPLE from west Wales are being urged to have their say as a public consultation on the future of the local gas network is set to close on Friday (Aug 17).

Wales & West Utilities look after the pipes that bring gas to homes and businesses across Wales and the south west of England. The company has received almost 20,000 responses to its consultation but is now urging as many people as possible to take two minutes to pipe up and shape its plans for the future. Everyone who completes the consultation will be entered into a weekly draw to win a £100 Amazon Gift Card.

The company is asking people to give their views on issues such as the gas emergency service, investment to keep the gas network safe and reliable and how it supports those most in need. It is also seeking views on preparing the gas network for a greener future, making sure it can continue to deliver essential services for generations to come.

Wales & West Utilities charge for their services through consumer gas bills. Currently, their services make up 20% of an annual gas bill – so for the average gas bill of £630, that’s £128 a year – or 35 pence per day.

Graham Edwards, Chief Executive at Wales & West Utilities, explains: “The pipes we look after are mostly underground and out of mind, but we provide an essential service in keeping people safe and warm in their homes and powering businesses. Now, as we plan for the future, we want as many people in West Wales as possible to have their say on the future of their gas network and the services we provide.”

“This consultation is about ensuring our customers’ views are heard so that we plan and work towards getting the balance right between investing to maintain and improve our services and preparing the gas network for the future, while keeping bills low.

“We understand the financial pressure households across the area are under and we remain committed to keeping our portion of the gas bill to a minimum – we have already reduced the cost of our services since 2013 from £145 to £128 today.

“We’re looking forward to hearing customer feedback from West Wales as this will play a vital role in shaping our business for the future.”

Wales & West Utilities also connects around 11,000 homes and businesses to the network each year. And, for customers in need of extra support, the company has a scheme offering low-cost gas connections and financial help for appliance repairs. There is also a priority register to make sure people in vulnerable situations are prioritised when things go wrong.

To have your say on the future of your gas network and the services Wales & West Utilities provides please go to PipeUpOnline.co.uk or Facebook.com/wwutilities and be in with a chance to win a £100 Amazon.co.uk Gift Card.

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