Volunteers are being recruited to work with Kent Police in ‘gathering useful evidence’ about criminal activity and antisocial behaviour.
Community Policing Volunteers are being trained as part of a pilot scheme in the West Division which includes Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Maidstone.
They will wear a uniform and will have the power to request the name and address of someone committing anti-social behaviour, some powers to control traffic, the authority to place traffic signs and the power to enter premises to save life and/or prevent serious damage.
If they ride and own their own horse they might even be mounted while on patrol.
Recruits will support their local Community Safety Units by providing additional visibility and an extra point of contact for members of the public, while also improving the communication flow to the police and back to the community.
The idea is for the volunteers to serve alongside officers from the Special Constabulary, who are also volunteers but who share the same powers as regular officers.
Volunteers will work as part of a team to reduce crime and improve community safety. They will have a number of duties including supporting police officers, responding to the needs of communities and supporting victims.
According to Kent Police they will play ‘a vital role in solving local problems and gathering useful evidence about criminal activity and anti-social behaviour’.
The new role has been established following the Policing and Crime Bill 2017, which has given Chief Constables authority to extend certain powers to volunteers.
Assistant Chief Constable Tony Blaker said: ‘We know from talking to many people that there is a strong interest in volunteering to support the police and the community, and this is a fantastic opportunity that we hope will attract people of all ages and backgrounds.
‘We have a rich tradition of volunteers in Kent Police with a thriving Special Constabulary, a growing Volunteer Cadet Force and a multitude of people who help in support roles throughout the force.
‘This new role will build on that and provide an invaluable service to both the police and the local community.’
The new role in community policing comes at a time when forces are battling to minimise the impact of budget cuts. Kent today has 500 fewer officers than in 2010 and in November it was announced that only one in four speed cameras is operational across the county.
However, a police spokesman dismissed any suggestion the latest initiative has come about because of budget cuts. He told the Times: “Kent Police, like all other police forces have been using the skills and experience of its volunteers for many years, and has a rich tradition of encouraging and supporting volunteers.
“The introduction of Community Policing Volunteers is a great example of how local people can bring experience and insight from other walks of life to complement and add to the work done by officers, PCSOs and other volunteers. They are not replacing any paid posts.”
When asked if people could act as volunteers while walking dogs or cycling he added: “There are opportunities for these volunteers to bring their own expertise to specialise in a particular area.
“For example, those that own and ride horses could be mounted while on patrol, in the same way as the Special Constabulary has a mounted section. The dog walker element is currently being explored for insurance purposes, but has not yet been agreed.”