Students get a lesson in life

More than 30 University of Wolverhampton first-year students were last month (April) interviewed to become Special Constables with West Midlands Police, as part of their degree studies.

Successful candidates will join the dozen second-year students already working as Specials with neighbourhood policing teams across the region. They are all working towards their BSc (Hons) in Policing.

Developed in conjunction with West Midlands Police and the National Policing Improvement Agency, the University of Wolverhampton delivers 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, said: "This is a vocationally focused degree that equips individuals to become police officers."

The former West Midlands Police inspector added: "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 are currently working as Specials in the West Midlands, all having 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.

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."

Case study 1: Mohammad Waqar Khan

A schools-based officer opened Mohammad Waqar Khan's eyes to the work of West Midlands Police. "She inspired me. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here now, studying the Policing degree and volunteering as a Special," he said.
Mohammad, aged 20, was a pupil at Holt School in Lozells, Birmingham, where, he recalls, relations between police and community were not as well established as they are today. Now attached to the Handsworth Wood neighbourhood policing team, he added: "A lot of people I meet out on the beat are really willing to stop and chat - and help. Attitudes towards the police have changed very positively."

The second year student had applied to become a Special before enrolling at the University of Wolverhampton, and was drawn to the course by its partnership with West Midlands Police.

Mohammad has been a Special for 14 months and has clocked up 577 hours on the beat. He has dealt with a wide range of incidents, from neighbourhood disputes and anti-social behaviour to being part of an undercover burglary operation. But the crime category that has most challenged him is domestic violence. "My eyes have really been opened," he said. "To see the level of control that some people have over their partners - and the depth of fear that can exist on the part of the victims - has been a surprise."

The Specials training complements the university course, which focuses on subjects like national security and public order, human rights and criminal law. Mohammad said: "Although you don't experience everything as a Special, it has certainly helped me decide where I want to go over the next five years. I want to apply to West Midlands Police and after my training and probation would like to join a response team and hopefully move on to neighbourhood policing."

Asked where he sees his career going, Mohammad added: "I would like to become Chief Constable one day - but have a big impact on policing along the way."
Handsworth Wood neighbourhood policing team's Sergeant Rachel Linton said: "I have been impressed by how much work Mohammad is doing with the local community. He has really entrenched himself in neighbourhood policing.
"He took on a lot of responsibility by setting up a Business Watch scheme in College Road where shopkeepers had been experiencing problems with anti-social behaviour. He has shown a lot of enthusiasm and drive and the Business Watch has had a positive impact on the area."

She added: "The university course has given him a wider knowledge of the demands of policing. We find that whatever our Specials do as a 'day job', they bring their particular skills with them when they go out on patrol with West Midlands Police."

Case study 2: Kirsty Smith
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 at Easter.

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."

Case study 3: Richard Brown
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."

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."

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