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New standards for recruiting special constables aim to increase professionalism and cut costs

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Potential special constables should be tested on customer handling, communications and calmness in difficult situations, according to new standards launched today by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

The new standards aim to ensure specials give a better service to the public while reducing recruitment costs and bureaucracy for forces. The new recruitment assessment consists of an interview, a written exercise and a judgment test in which candidates respond to scenarios resembling situations that specials face, such as a traffic incident or a school visit.

The Special Constabulary is a force of volunteers that work with and offer support to regular Metropolitan police officers. The guidance, which standardises recruitment of specials, also recommends forces adopt the same fitness, health and eyesight levels demanded for paid police officers. New candidates would therefore have to pass a number of endurance, speed and strength tests to become a special constable.

By adopting the standards, forces benefit in a number of ways, including the development of a professional Special Constabulary, reduced recruitment costs and less bureaucracy, consistent and fair recruitment and economies of scale allowing forces to run combined assessment processes or lend assessors to neighbouring forces. It is hoped the process will mean assessors are trained to the same standard making it easier for specials to transfer from one force to another.

Angela O'Connor, chief people officer at NPIA, said: "The new standards help reduce a force's recruitment costs for specials while increasing their professionalism, enabling them to protect the public more effectively. Several forces are already benefiting from reduced costs and less bureaucracy from implementing the standards and so we all urge forces to adopt them."

Around half of all forces are planning to implement the new standards over the next year. Among the pilot forces, Cheshire Constabulary has reduced its recruitment costs for specials significantly. Greater Manchester Police have found that the new assessment process allows a greater number of candidates to be processed and cuts down on the days that candidates are required to attend tests, as all elements of the assessment are run in a half-day session.

The NPIA is offering free training courses for assessors and quality assurers as well as a range of other support to forces adopting the new specials recruitment process before 31 March 2011.