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.”
Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children
RESPIRATORY Syncytial Virus (RSV) is circulating amongst children and toddlers in the Hywel Dda area (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire)
Hywel Dda UHB Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive Dr Philip Kloer said: “Because of the COVID restrictions, there have been few cases of RSV during the pandemic, but this virus has returned and in higher numbers now people are mixing more.
“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children. However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.”
Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including:
*a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
*a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).
The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:
- You are worried about your child.
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
- Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
- Your child seems very tired or irritable.
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- your baby is having difficulty breathing
- your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
New Quay RNLI rescues person cut off by the tide
NEW Quay RNLI’s inshore lifeboat was launched on service on Saturday September 11 following a report of a person cut off by the tide at Traeth Gwyn, New Quay.
With three crew members on board the inshore lifeboat Audrey LJ it launched on service at 11.15am and did an extensive search of the beach before finding the casualty who had been cut off by the high spring tide.
Brett Stones, New Quay RNLI’s helm said, “There was an initial confusion on the location of the casualty but an update from the New Quay Coastguard Rescue team, who had fought their way down from the cliff top through thick undergrowth, allowed us to locate the person.
“We then transferred the casualty and two of the coastguard team onto the boat. We dropped the casualty off at Llanina Point and brought the two coastguard officers back to the lifeboat station. The inshore lifeboat was then rehoused and ready for service by 12.25pm.
“Remember if you see if you see anyone in difficulty or you find yourself in trouble on the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”
Ben Lake shows support for farmers on Back British Farming Day
BEN Lake MP has today shown support for British food and farming on Back British Farming Day, recognising the crucial role farmers in Ceredigion play in producing food for the nation.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) provided MPs with the emblem of the day – a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge – to enable them to join the celebration of agriculture. Food and farming is a key business sector, worth more than £120 billion to the UK economy and providing jobs for almost four million people.
The NFU chose the day to launch a new report which asks for Government to complete a comprehensive report on UK food security later this year, covering the country’s production of key foods and its contribution to global food security. This would be the first meaningful assessment of UK food security in over a decade.
Commenting, Ben Lake MP, said: “I’m proud to wear a pin badge today to show my support for Ceredigion’s fantastic farmers and growers. The day presents an opportunity to thank the farmers who feed us, as well as take care of our countryside and maintain our iconic Welsh landscapes.
“I fully support the campaign which is asking us all to value locally produced food. I will be calling on Government to adopt agricultural policies that ensure farming in Ceredigion can thrive and ensure our self-sufficiency does not fall below its current level of 60%, alongside a greater ambition in promoting Welsh food to aid UK food security.”
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