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Chief Constable looks back over four years as a volunteer officer

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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.”

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Narberth: Two men wanted in connection with assault

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POLICE are investigating an allegation of assault which occurred just before 1pm on Wednesday (Aug 15) in  C.K.’s supermarket car park in Narberth.

A 61-year-old male was injured and checked over by the ambulance service.

The two male suspects are described as being 17/18 years old, one approx. 6ft tall with blonde hair and one a shorter, stocky built male. Both were wearing black hoodies.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with information that can help officers with their investigation is asked to report it by calling 101.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.”

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Pembrokeshire rural crime team launched

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FROM investigating reports of agricultural theft, to helping ensure the mental health of farmers is supported, Dyfed-Powys Police’s newest rural crime team is set to tackle a host of issues in Pembrokeshire.

Coming from farming and horsing backgrounds in the county, with knowledge of the issues and concerns these communities face, PC Gerwyn Davies and PCSO Jude Parr are a perfect match for the role.

The Pembrokeshire rural crime team was officially launched at the Pembrokeshire County Show in Haverfordwest on Wednesday (Aug 15), where they spent time meeting farmers, visitors and rural organisations to inform them of the work to come.

The pair will cover the Pembrokeshire division, dealing with issues ranging from sheep worrying and livestock theft, to offering crime prevention advice and support. They will also work closely with agencies including the National Farmers’ Union, the Farmer’s Union of Wales and the Welsh Government.

Speaking about his new role, PC Davies said: “It’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m a farmer’s son, I was born and bred in north Pembrokeshire and I worked on farms while I was at school. I have the background knowledge of the issues faced by farmers, and having been a response officer for 14 years, I’d now like to be a face for this community and have the chance to make a difference.”

PCSO Parr has worked for Dyfed-Powys Police for 13 years – with nine of those spent on the rural neighbourhood policing team, covering a wide farming and coastal area. She received a commendation in 2009 for her work in establishing a Farm Watch scheme, which was followed by a Horse Watch and tack marking scheme.

She said: “I’m looking forward to having the time to dedicate to schemes like these as part of this new, exciting and much-needed role in the rural crime team.

“It’s all about forging links with farmers and the rural community. The trust had gone, and it’s essential that we build that back up. It’s about getting them to report to us and to talk to us. We want people to know that we are here, and we will listen to them, and most importantly that we care about the issues they face.”

The new team has come as a direct result of the force’s rural crime strategy, which was launched in November and committed to identifying named points of contact for rural crime matters, as well as developing the specialist rural skills and knowledge of its officers.

One of the team’s key roles is to impress on rural communities the importance of reporting crimes to police, so the force has a greater understanding of the scale of issues faced and is able to put plans in place to tackle them.

“I think there’s more of an issue than people report back to us,” PCSO Parr said. “People won’t report theft for example if it’s below a certain value as they don’t think it’s worth it, or that we can’t investigate it. We want people to know that’s not true, that we take all reports of crime seriously, and we will investigate.

“But our role is about more than crime. It’s also about things like mental health and vulnerabilities. Farming can be a very lonely occupation, and you can feel isolated, but people might not necessarily know where to look for help. We will be linking in with vets and people who see farmers on a regular basis so we can signpost those who need help and advice.”

PC Davies and PCSO Parr will undergo enhanced training with North Wales Police’s rural crime team later this month, with a mixture of classroom based learning and time on patrol with officers and PCSOs to get a feel for how the team operates.

PC Davies said: “It will be really interesting to see how the team in North Wales works as they have been running for five years now. They have different issues to us, but I’m sure we will be able to take a lot away from them. We are also looking at what our own team is doing in Ceredigion, and how they have worked over the past two months.”

A rural crime board has also been established in Pembrokeshire in conjunction with PLANED, which aims to increase the understanding of the issues impacting on rural communities, and through work with partner agencies, to agree priorities and jointly address the concerns that are having the greatest effect on rural life.

For further information about the rural crime board, contact Chief Inspector Amanda Diggens or Inspector Alan Millichip by calling 101.

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Pembrokeshire has second most public toilets in UK

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AS public toilet provision has declined over a number of years, it has been revealed that Pembrokeshire maintains the second most public toilets in the UK.

The BBC conducted research on the issue, contacting 430 councils and receiving data from 376. Under the Freedom of Information law, the BBC found that despite a growing population, since 2010, at least 673 public toilets across the UK have stopped being maintained by major councils.

The data showed that UK councils have stopped maintaining around 13% of public toilets in the past eight years, with 4,486 toilets currently run by major councils in the UK, down from 5,159 in 2010. 37 major councils do not provide any public conveniences.

The most public toilets maintained are by Highland Council with 92, followed by both Pembrokeshire and Gwynedd with 73.

Yet Pembrokeshire has still seen a reduction, having 92 in 2010. Ceredigion currently has 34 public toilets, a reduction of 14 in the past eight years, whilst Carmarthenshire County Council did not provide any data.

It is not a legal requirement for local authorities to provide toilets, but budget pressures mean that many councils look to close them.

Others have instead shifted responsibility to smaller parish or town councils, or even community groups that pay for the services through fundraising. These smaller councils then face the dilemma as to whether to close local toilets, or take them on and face a ‘toilet tax’ of business rates paid on the premises.

Yet many feel that whilst there is no legal requirement to provide access to public toilets, there is a moral responsibility.

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