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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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Police urge visitors to ‘check the rules’

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POLICE in Powys are reminding people to check the rules before they travel, as tourists from the Midlands, London and Bristol continue to visit despite lockdown restrictions.

Last weekend more than 1,000 cars were turned around by police in the Brecon Beacons after visitors attempted to access the area around Ystradfellte known as ‘waterfall country’.

Many of those stopped claimed they thought the rules around travel were the same as in England, while others had deliberately flouted them.

Seventy-two per cent of people reported for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions in Powys since March 27 have been from outside the police force area.

“I would like to thank the communities of Powys for their cooperation in recent months in complying with requirements of the Covid 19 legislation and also reassure them we are still working hard with our partners to police the restrictions that remain in place across Wales,” said Superintendent Steve Davies.

“Our officers have worked hard to engage with the public at every opportunity throughout these unprecedented times by explaining what we are doing and why, and encouraging people to make the best choices to protect public health in Wales.

“But where people have clearly flouted the rules we have dealt with them appropriately and issued fines.”

He said officers will continue to conduct stop checks throughout Powys and across the force area this weekend.

In England, people can now travel an unlimited distance for exercise and to access so-called ‘beauty spots’.

But the Welsh Government has said people must remain local – ideally not travelling further than five miles from their home – for exercise or limited leisure pursuits, and this also applies to anyone travelling across the border.

Wales’ three national parks – which include popular sites such as Snowdon, the Elan valley and the Pembrokeshire coast – currently remain closed to the public, as do all National Trust car parks and properties.

The latest Welsh Government advice is available at gov.wales/coronavirus.

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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Four further coronavirus cases confirmed in Hywel Dda area

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THE LATEST figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) reveal four new cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Hywel Dda Health Board Area.

As of today, June 2, Carmarthenshire identified three new cases, Pembrokeshire has one new case and none in Ceredigion, meaning the new totals stand at 732, 279 and 42.

Wales now has a total of 14,121, with 67 new cases and seven additional deaths recorded, bringing the death total to 1,354.

With Hywel Dda reporting 61 deaths to date.

Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “Contact tracing continues in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy. Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with an individual with Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in order to prevent the risk of others spreading the infection in our communities.

“Anyone who has a positive Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) test will be contacted by a team of contact tracers, and asked for details of everyone they have had close contact with while they have had symptoms.

“Please keep a note of your activities so you can easily remember your whereabouts on a given day, along with who were in contact with. You do not need to have any concerns about providing names to the tracing team. This is for everyone’s benefit and we are grateful for your continued cooperation.

“If you are asked to self-isolate, you should also comply with this request to prevent further spread of the virus.

“Tracers are trained staff and personal information that you provide will handled in line with data protection regulations and will not be shared widely.

“Over the last few weeks, Public Health Wales has been setting up the methods and guidance for how contact tracing will operate. We will continue to work closely to support local health boards and local authorities in delivering contact tracing.

“Welsh Government’s revised lockdown arrangements also continue. People from two different households in the same local area can meet up outdoors, provided they continue to maintain social distancing and strict hand hygiene.

“The announcement adds that, as a general rule, people should not travel more than five miles from home. This will help to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading as people begin to travel more.

“Revised lockdown arrangements also apply to people in Wales who have been told to ‘shield’ from the virus. They are able to go outside and meet people from another household, provided they keep a two-metre distance.

“Future relaxation of lockdown measures will also be dependent on everyone following advice set out in the ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy, including self-isolating when required.

“Information about the symptoms of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) to look out for is available on the Public Health Wales website, or members of the public can use the NHS Wales symptom checker.

“Anyone experiencing Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms can now apply for a home testing kit using the new UK online portal. For further information and a link to the booking website, visit: www.gov.wales/coronavirus or www.llyw.cymru/coronafeirws. This will be supported by a national 119 phone service, through which people can also order a home test.

“We are encouraging everyone to download the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Symptom Study app, which has been supported by Welsh Government. The app allows users to log daily symptoms to help build a clearer picture of how the virus is affecting people. For more information, including how to download the app, visit covid.joinzoe.com.

“As part of wider support measures for families, Public Health Wales is offering all parents, parents-to-be, grandparents and care-givers free access to a series of online courses designed to help them understand the development and emotional milestones of their children, covering everything from pre-birth to late teens.

“To get access users just need to visit www.inourplace.co.uk and use the code ‘NWSOL’ if you live in North Wales, and ‘SWSOL’ if you live in Mid, West or South Wales.

“Public Health Wales is also continuing working to address the negative impact of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) on the social, mental and physical wellbeing of people in Wales. Our latest campaign, ‘How are you doing?’ is now live and offering practical advice from phw.nhs.wales/howareyoudoing.

“Anyone with a suspected coronavirus illness should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. They should only contact NHS 111 if they feel they cannot cope with their symptoms at home, their condition gets worse, or their symptoms do not get better after seven days.

“Only call 999 if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, do not call 999 just because you are on hold to 111. We appreciate that 111 lines are busy, but you will get through after a wait.

“We also want to reinforce the message from NHS Wales that urgent and emergency care services for physical and mental health are still open and accessible.

“For parents, if your child is unwell and you are concerned you should seek help. If you have urgent dental pain you should still call your dentist. If you have a health complaint that is worrying you and won’t go away you should call your GP practice. If you or a family member are seriously ill or injured you should dial 999 or attend your nearest Emergency Department.”

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