Drug raids, domestic violence and protest rallies are all in a day’s work experience for a group of students at the University of Wolverhampton.
The students – all working towards their BSc (Hons) in Policing – have been signed up as Special Constables by West Midlands Police as part of the course.
Developed in conjunction with West Midlands Police and the National Policing Improvement Agency, the University offers a programme for those contemplating a career in policing or related areas which require graduates with forensic investigative skills, knowledge of the law, appreciation of mental health issues and a wider understanding of the social context in which policing is conducted.
The University’s Dr Martin Wright, who leads the course, is a former West Midlands Police inspector. He said: “This is a vocationally focused degree that equips individuals to become police officers.
“The syllabus provides our students with a whole range of thinking skills. Course members study forensic science, mental health and criminal law alongside students in those individual faculties at the University.
“We are delighted to be providing high quality students to become Special Constables and as a result get some fantastic feedback from West Midlands Police.”
Twelve University of Wolverhampton students gained experience as Specials in the West Midlands during the academic year. All benefited from a bespoke force training programme developed to meet the needs of individual communities. Topics covered include powers of arrest, stop and search, force intelligence and policing ethics.
An additional 32 first-year students have recently gone through the interview process, with a view to becoming Specials in the next academic year.
Sergeant Steve Coxon, who developed the current Specials training programme, said: “Each force trains its Specials very differently and each uses Specials in a different way. In the West Midlands, the policy is to place them with permanent neighbourhood teams where they will have the opportunity to get involved in a range of duties – carrying out stop and search practices, investigating thefts and making arrests.”
Day one as a Special, and Kirsty Smith made her first arrest while helping to execute a drugs warrant. Since then the 19-year-old has been involved in a raid on a brothel in Dudley and more recently took part in neighbourhood policing support during the English Defence League (EDL) protest in the town centre.
Kirsty, from Kingswinford and a former King Edward VI College pupil, said: “I love it. I volunteer for an eight-hour shift every week and get included in everything the team is doing that day.”
Referring to the EDL protest, she added: “I thought it was handled really well. I was patrolling the Russells Hall neighbourhood, reassuring residents, and it was interesting to hear progress reports over the radio.”
She has been part of the St James neighbourhood policing team for five months.
“Signing up as a Special makes you more aware of what is happening in your area, for better or worse. You just don’t realise what is going on so close to home,” she said. “It also highlights the relevance of the university course – being able to put into practice what we are learning helps make sense of it all.”
Twenty-year-old Richard Brown stumbled on the course while he was considering studying psychology with a view to joining the police.
“The syllabus is ideal for what I want to do with my life,” he said.
He spent three weeks last summer ‘fast tracking’ the West Midlands Police Specials training and has been out on the beat around Brierley Hill every week since November. “I have had quite a lot of fun with the neighbourhood policing team, taking part in vehicle crime and drugs investigations as well as general patrols. The work has been very interesting, but it’s not all action-packed – we have our fair share of paperwork to do, which is an equally important part of the job.”
And Richard is getting used to the less than complimentary comments that he sometimes attracts, out on patrol around the Merry Hill Centre. “The first couple of times people fired off abusive comments I was a bit shocked, but I’m used to it now,” he said.
Richard, who comes from Pensnett, added: “The regular officers I work with are really interested in what the University course offers. Some of them have been Specials themselves and they appreciate the work we put in to equip ourselves with a better working knowledge of the demands of policing.
“Being a Special enables me to put into practice what I am learning, week by week. It is a great way to link together the theory and the practice.”