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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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Winners of the Ceredigion Marine Litter Reduction competition announced

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THE WINNING designs were announced on 5 March for a competition held at five primary schools across Ceredigion. The task was to design a poster that will be used as an accreditation to businesses who are reducing their use of plastics and packaging.

Year 5 and 6 pupils from Ysgol Gynradd Aberaeron, Ysgol Cei Newydd, Ysgol Gynradd Bro Sion Cwilt , Ysgol Gynradd Aberporth and Ysgol Gymunedol Craig Yr Wylfa participated in the competition. Across the schools, the five best designs were chosen as winners. The winners and eight runners up received certificates for their achievements.

The winning posters will be awarded to businesses and organisations who support plastic reduction, support packaging reduction, allow customers to re-fill single-use water bottles and have stopped providing plastic straws. Schools who commit to reducing their plastic will also be awarded accreditation posters.

Melanie Heath is the Cardigan Bay Marine Protected Area Officer for Ceredigion County Council. She said, “Following a successful plastic reduction pilot project in Llangrannog in 2016, we wanted to reward or accredit businesses and organisations who had reduced their use of plastic.

With this year’s project, we wanted to involve our young people, who care passionately about issues such as plastic pollution and climate change. We wanted to give them the opportunity to contribute to the campaign and to have their voices heard.”

To support the running of the project this year, Ceredigion County Council received a grant from Natural Resources Wales.

Linda Ashton, Senior Partnership, Access and Recreation Officer, Natural Resources Wales said, “We support communities and partners through our grant aid programmes to help more people learn about and enjoy our natural environment.

It is great to see young people getting involved with projects like this and encouraging others to reduce their plastic waste. Helping to protect the environment of Wales for the future.”

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New Quay RNLI curry and quiz night

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NEW QUAY RNLI Fundraisers are hosting the annual curry and quiz night at New Quay Yacht Club on Friday 22 March at 7.30pm. The fundraising team is also looking for new members to help raise funds to save lives at sea.

Tim Richards, New Quay RNLI Fundraising Manager said, “Everyone is welcome to join us for a fun evening at the Yacht Club. The evening will begin with a home cooked curry and finish with a light-hearted quiz to get your brain cells working. So why not join us to tickle your taste buds and test your general knowledge while raising money for lifeboats at the same time?”

The New Quay Ceredigion Fundraising Branch are volunteers that devote their time to raising vital funds for the RNLI, the charity which saves lives at sea. They organise and host a variety of family friendly events throughout the year, from fish supper evenings to the Christmas Fayre.

Tim added, “We are looking for new members to join our fundraising team, no experience necessary but lots of enthusiasm and ideas are very welcome. We meet on average once a month so if you are interested please do not hesitate to contact me at tim.dysonrichards@gmail.com or New Quay Lifeboat Station on 01545 560311 to help make a difference.”

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New Quay RNLI help rowers prepare for Celtic Challenge

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NEW QUAY RNLI recently assisted Clwb Rhwyfo Llangrannog Rowing Club with their training for this year’s Celtic Challenge.

The biennial challenge sees teams of 12 people rowing through the night from Arklow in Ireland to Aberystwyth in Wales, a journey of approximately 97 miles. The race is an extreme test of endurance and usually takes between 15 and 24 hours, depending on the weather.

 

Two New Quay RNLI crew members, Laura Mears and Heather Rees-Gaunt, are members of the Llangrannog Rowing Club and Heather will be taking part in the gruelling challenge which is set to take place between May 3-6, 2019.

As part of their preparations, the rowing team took part in a structured exercise with lifeboat crew members simulating a person overboard incident so that the rowers gained experience in manoeuvring the boat and recovering a person from the water. New Quay RNLI Community Safety Adviser, Roy Fenner, also gave advice on safety equipment and means of calling for help.

 

Heather, who has previously rowed the Indian Ocean from Australia to the Seychelles, breaking two world records, said, “These training exercises with the RNLI are crucial for our preparations as we will be rowing in the Irish Sea at night, which can be a dangerous place to be if you’re not fully prepared. The person overboard training helps each team member know what to do if the situation arises.

“After the training session, the feedback from all the rowers was hugely positive. Doing the practical training has installed a huge element of confidence in dealing with the ever-changing scenarios that can take place at sea. I know from experience that anything can happen and usually when you least expect it. Small situations escalate very quickly in such an unpredictable environment but knowing your team has that little bit more experience and training can only ever be a positive.”

BBC cameras are following their journey, including preparations and training as well as the race itself, with each team member raising money for a charity of their choice.

The club is still searching for sponsors for various items of clothing for the challenge. If you are able to help please email Rhwyfo Crannog Rowing on mispinc@hotmail.com or call 07415 351 431.

 

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