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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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Lifeline for cockle-gathers could be on the way after Llangennech rail crash

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Plaid Cymru MS Helen Mary Jones has raised the impact on cockle-gathers of the Llangennech derailment last year.

She received an assurance from the First Minister that the Welsh Government was looking at way to help the cockle industry.

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Economy, Transport and Tackling Poverty Minister, Helen Mary Jones MS said:

“In the Senedd I congratulated the public services for the way they co-operated around the clean-up after the Llangennech derailment, which, so far, has been very successful. I demanded a life-line scheme to help the cockle gathers.

“I raised with the First Minister issues for two groups of businesses particularly badly affected in the short-term by the derailment. 

“One of those was the very important cockle-gathering industry, the other, of course, were farmers who graze animals on those low-lying banks by the river. 

“There has been a request for the Welsh Government to consider whether some interim financial support might be made available to the cockle gatherers and the grazers while responsibility for the derailment and long-term compensation becomes a possibility. Many of these are small businesses; they operate on quite low margins and currently in difficult circumstances.

“The First Minister emphasised he was aware of the impact on cockle gatherers and particularly that they were unable to carry out their normal activities while the level of environmental contaminants in the estuary were being surveyed.

“Plaid Cymru believes it must be the polluter in the end that must pay for the damage that has been caused, but the rail accident investigation branch work is not coming to a conclusion quickly.

“The Welsh Government is expecting to receive advice in the next few days whether or not it is possible to devise a scheme through the Welsh Government in which some interim assistance to those industries could be supplied.

“The Welsh Government is keen to obtain that advice from officials in case it is possible, before the rail accident investigation is completed, so they can offer some assistance to those who have been most directly affected.”

The environmental impact of the Llangennech derailment last year was amongst the most significant in Wales since the Sea Empress disaster of 25 years ago. 

Monitoring of the site and surrounding area, which includes four sites of special scientific interest and a special area of conservation will continue for many years to come.

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UK Budget must take crucial steps to help recovery

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LLANELLI Labour representatives are urging the UK Government to take the necessary steps to begin recovery and secure prosperity across all parts of the UK.

Llanelli’s MP Nia Griffith and MS Lee Waters set out Wales’ priorities ahead of the UK Budget on Wednesday March 3 2021.

They are urging the UK Government to make a series of commitments to Wales, including:

• sustaining UK-wide business support
• delivering welfare and taxation measures to support the most vulnerable
• redressing the historical under investment in Wales on research and development and rail infrastructure
• providing an injection of funding to support the transition to Net Zero carbon emissions
• providing guarantees for Wales’ specific funding pressures

Speaking ahead of the UK Budget announcement, Nia Griffith MP reiterated her calls for continued business support for those on the lowest of incomes. She said:  

“It is vital that the Job Retention Scheme and Self Employed Income Support Scheme are retained – not threatened with being removed at the eleventh hour and putting livelihoods at risk. A delay to repayments should also be introduced for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme with recognition given to the self-employed who are facing deferred bills.”

“It is also vital that the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit is maintained and put on a permanent basis, making it available to people in receipt of legacy means-tested benefits. More than 300,000 families in Wales have benefitted from an extra £1,000 a year as a result of the uplift and removing this now would have a detrimental and long-lasting effect on thousands of households across Wales.”

Lee Waters MS said:

“The UK Government should continue to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest in Wales’ infrastructure and public services. Particularly on rail, where we have been underfunded to the tune of billions since the start of devolution, this is the moment where Rishi Sunak can demonstrate his commitment to ‘levelling up’ all four nations of the UK.”

“This budget is a chance to hardwire a greener, fairer way of doing things into our recovery from Coronavirus. We are ambitious about our target of being Net Zero carbon by 2050, and averting the climate crisis which is increasingly affecting Wales through flooding. But to make that transition, we need a step change from the UK Government’s budget that allows us to invest in renewable energy and green jobs.”

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Search for Susan Smith continues

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THE search for missing Susan Smith is now in it’s third day. She was last seen on Saturday (Feb 27), walking in the Kidwelly area.

Speaking to The Herald, a police spokesperson said: “We are continuing to search for Susan Smith who has been reported missing.”

“The search is continuing today with specialist police officers making house to house enquiries in the Kidwelly, St Ishamels, Ferryside and surrounding areas.

Sergeant Fiona Phillips said: “It is important that we build a picture of Susan’s movements after she was last seen on Saturday and I would appeal to anyone who believes they may have seen her to contact police.”

Susan was last seen 1.30pm Saturday, February 27 2021, walking in the Carmarthen Bay Holiday Village, Kidwelly area. She is known to walk along the beach to St Ishmaels and Ferryside.

She is described as approximately 5ft2 inches tall, petite with shoulder length blonde hair and believed to be wearing black jeans, a black fleece type jacket and navy and grey walking boots.

Any who has seen Susan or anyone who may have information that could help the search is asked to contact Dyfed-Powys Police, quoting reference 285 of Saturday 27th February.

Police can be contacted either online at bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or 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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