Feature: Specials keeping our streets safe

Special sergeant Matt Ablewhite. Photo: MSMP071013-001am
Special sergeant Matt Ablewhite. Photo: MSMP071013-001am
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A team of ordinary citizens are giving up hundreds of hours of their time to support the police and make a difference in their community.

The Special Constabulary has been around for centuries. But it is only in recent years members have taken a more visible role, been given the same powers as paid police and become a key part of frontline work.

Special Sgt Matt Ablewhite speaks to his team during an operation in Stamford. Photo: MSMP 251013-008am

Special Sgt Matt Ablewhite speaks to his team during an operation in Stamford. Photo: MSMP 251013-008am

In Stamford, Special Sergeant Matt Ablewhite is leading an operation to tackle antisocial behaviour and reduce criminal damage. Several times a year he and a team of colleagues take to the streets en masse with the aim of reassuring the public and preventing crime.

I joined the team as they went out on Friday last week, and although the rain helped keep trouble down, it was clear the specials are doing a valuable job.

After a briefing meeting at Stamford police station, the team of nine Specials went out in pairs to visit potential meeting points for young people.

I joined Special Sgt Ablewhite for the evening, which began with a chat with a driver who was cautioned for ignoring a stop sign. While this wasn’t part of the operation brief, it showed the kind of incidents specials deal with while on duty. We then visited The Shack youth club on the Recreation Ground.

The teenagers were obviously used to seeing uniformed police and greeted us like they would anyone else.

Special Sgt Ablewhite spoke to several of the youngsters and, as a Stamford resident himself, was keen to stress the importance of becoming more than just a uniform.

He told me: “People are surprised and happy that we are not there to trip them up. It’s community policing and it’s all about breaking down barriers.

“It’s reassuring because people see us out and about, and there are a lot of us on patrol.”

We later met the rest of the team on foot in the town centre. Although the night was still quiet, we spoke to doormen and “regulars” - people the team knew from previous incidents - to get a feel for what was going on.

The rapport the Specials had with those they spoke to was clear. And while those who didn’t know them were apprehensive at first, they soon warmed to the team once it became clear they were not in trouble.

Later in the night the team dealt with several incidents around their patch. They were called to a multiple-vehicle crash in Leicestershire and asked to help deal with scuffles in Bourne town centre.

The following day they helped increase the police presence around Stamford AFC’s FA Cup qualifying match with Hednesford Town.

Every time they go out the Specials know they could be called to deal with any kind of crime.

Special Sgt Ablewhite said: “It can be anything from run-of-the-mill thefts up to serious road traffic collisions.

“There is no difference between our role and that of full-time police any more.”

The only key difference is the remuneration - all Specials, right up to the top level, give up their time for free.

They are only required to commit to 16 hours per month. But it was clear to me that they are happy to work many more hours, often late at night and at weekends, because they take so much from the role.

Special Sgt Ablewhite, who joined the force as a cadet in his teens, said: “I got involved because I enjoyed the challenge of policing. It’s that cliché of giving something back. You get to be a reassuring presence in the community.

“You are bringing offenders to justice and being a being a valuable supplement to the force.”

The Special Constabulary is always looking for new additions.

To find out more call 101 and ask to be put through to Specials recruitment.