Volunteers in policing – what does success look like?

Aim three of the NCVO strategy is to grow and enhance volunteering wherever it takes place and so we’re interested in the role volunteering plays across sectors. Volunteering in public services is going to be a key area of work for NCVO’s public policy and volunteering department.

We see volunteers as part of a positive future for a new generation of user-led, co-produced public services that are enhanced by the involvement of volunteers; but we believe further work is needed across sectors to develop our understanding of the ingredients required to make this happen.

I am particularly interested in what we can learn about what needs to be in place for impactful, quality volunteering that can enhance public services. Here I take a look at what we can learn from the police.

From the front-line to the back-office

There are now an estimated 500,000 volunteers supporting the police and there has been diversification of what they do with the development of new high profile, specialist roles like the ‘cyber-specials’ in the National Crime Agency, alongside a range of other opportunities.

Volunteers are now very much part of policing, from the front-line to the back office, and are making a significant contribution alongside paid staff. As the role for volunteers in policing develops we need to ensure that we are clear about what success looks like and what is needed to achieve it.

It’s not just about boots on the ground

Does more volunteers mean success? It’s a question that lots of organisations that involve volunteers have asked themselves. For the police, growing the number of volunteers needs to be driven by an aspirational vision for what value volunteers can bring to policing. This vision needs to be accompanied by a plan for how volunteers will be effectively managed and supported.

NCVO made some of these points in our response to proposed reforms last year. It’s only by getting these right that volunteering in policing will be embedded (rather than an add-on), impactful and well supported. These ingredients for success are as relevant for charities as they are other public services.

It’s good to see that some progress has been made in shaping the vision and strategic approach in policing. A new strategy for Citizen’s in Policing has now been approved and it sets out a clear direction for the development of volunteering and how it can be supported so that volunteers can make a difference to creating safe, more resilient, empowered communities.

We need to ensure the contribution that volunteers can make to reforming approaches to policing and crime prevention identified here continues to be recognised. If we view volunteers simply as an opportunity to boost capacity and have more boots on the ground we will miss out on an opportunity for volunteering to play a more transformative role in improving services.

Volunteers bring new ideas, perspectives, unique credibility and can contribute in effective partnerships with police staff; to have a real impact on preventing crime and supporting more resilient communities.

Recently I was part of the judging panel for The Lord Ferrer’s Awards, which recognise inspirational police volunteers making a difference in their community. The winners tell a story about what successful involvement of volunteers in policing looks like.

Identifying need and finding creative solutions

Bobby Dev, a special constable in Yorkshire, identified a need in his community and developed a creative solution to address it.  Bobby set up ‘Inspiring Youth’, a project to support young people aged 13-17 in the area who were at risk of being involved in crime, being radicalised or involved in gang culture.

He identified an at-risk group of young people who seemed to be falling through the gaps of existing services. With low levels of English the young people were marginalised and found it difficult to access support. Inspiring Youth supported them to improve their attendance and behaviour at school and inspired and encouraged them to volunteer to support others as mentors in their school. The successful project has now been rolled out to 17 secondary schools in Sheffield and Rotherham.

Contributing highly specialised skills

Adam Maxwell volunteered via the National Crime Agency Specials programme and has since become an invaluable asset of the National Cyber Crime Unit Forensic Technical team. One of the major problems facing cyber investigations was the ability to ingest and interpret large data sets.

The ability to interpret and analyse data is essential in tackling cyber-crime in action. Within a matter of weeks Adam developed a cutting edge data tool to enable the team to deal with large datasets in minutes. This approach is now being adopted nationally and internationally. The National Crime Agency described Adam’s contribution as ground-breaking.

Bringing communities together and empowering young people

Cleveland Police Cadets developed a programme to support people in their community affected by dementia. The cadets decided that dementia was something they were passionate about and wanted to take action on, using their own ideas and working closely with existing initiatives like Dementia Friends, to achieve their objective.

It’s a powerful example of how young people can take the lead in developing cross-sector partnerships to address a challenge facing their community and how the cadets can help empower them to take action. It also demonstrates that volunteers can play a unique role in developing ways to support more resilient communities where people feel supported and able to support each other.

Paying attention to the detail

The next challenge is to ensure this good practice can be shared and the learning is embedded in how police forces approach volunteering across the country. We need to ensure that we continue to pay attention to the detail that underpins successful volunteering, not only in public services but also in charities. The importance of high quality role development, quality support and management for volunteers, and ensuring the investment needed to make this happen.

Volunteering is cost-effective but not cost-free. NCVO will continue to work with the Citizen’s in Policing and the College of Policing as part of their cross-sector group to help support this.


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Avatar photo Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

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