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Southend council will not push forward with a plan to get more volunteer police officers patrolling the streets of Southend and instead will ask council staff to help tackle low level crime – for more than three times the cost.
Early last year, the council’s Conservative group suggested the council should pay out £34,000 to pay for the expenses of 34 special constables that would work exclusively in Southend.
The extra officers would mean more visible policing and extra support for full time officers.
But while councillors have voted in favour of the plan, the council is not taking any steps to implement it.
Councillor Martin Terry (Ind) has claimed it would risk losing money as Southend has a recruitment problem – a claim Essex Police has disputed.
Rather than trying to recruit volunteer officers, Cllr Terry said £150,000 was going to be set aside to ask council staff such as park rangers and pier enforcement officers to take on “low-level crime” that goes beyond their existing responsibilities.
“The idea of the special constables is not dead. We want more special constables, but the reality is that it’s proving difficult to recruit in Southend,” he said.
“We are looking at asking council staff – many who are customer facing and we are going to say to them we would like to give you more skills, do some branding and give extra powers under the town centre PSPO.
“This will see more people on the streets dealing with lower level crime.”
But a spokesperson for Essex Police said: “There is not an issue with recruitment and there are currently 104 specials operating in Southend.
“There is space to take more and we have spoken to the council about doing more.”
They added that 32 special constables are currently in training.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, also told a meeting in Thurrock that Essex has the fast growing and second largest special constabulary in the country, with more than 500 officers.
Mr Terry said his remarks were based on comments from the deputy crime commissioner about the issues that Leigh Town Council has faced with recruitment.
He added that if the police are having success in recruiting special constables it would “almost be silly for us to spend that money twice”.
Councillor Dan Nelson (Con), who was behind the initial proposal, said: “Either Cllr Terry is ignoring the advice of the police or not listening to the advice of the police.
“It is barmy that Southend should compare itself to Leigh Town Council, we should be comparing ourselves to other unitary authorities, such as Thurrock”
He added that council officers would only be able to tackle low level crime and Mr Terry’s plan “doesn’t help eliminating drug dealing and doesn’t help tackle knife crime”.