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United Kingdom Police Reserve

2002 July 13

Reserve Law Officers

Association of America

The United Kingdom

Police Reserve

The ‘Special Constable’ is the United Kingdom’s Reserve Law Officer. The name dates back more than 700 years to the time before paid policemen when the preservation of the peace was a common law unpaid duty.

Today there are about 15,000 Special Constables in the UK, each a sworn Constable in one of the 54 individual police forces of the British Isles. Northern Ireland has a different reserve organisation. A Special Constable (SC) has the same police powers as a Police Constable (PC), on or off duty, except that they are limited to their own and any contiguous force area. The British Transport Police now use SC’s and they have police powers on and near railway property throughout the British Isles.

The uniform of a SC is now almost identical to that of a PC, except for a small SC+Crown insignia, which is worn on the epaulets to identify the SC to other police officers. Some forces have recently abolished the SC+Crown insignia and now identify a SC by the shoulder number starting with an 8 or 9. In August 1996 a Home Office working party report stated that it was more important for SC’s to be recognised as such within the service than by the public.

Special Constabularies in England and Wales have their own grade structure in place of ranks, which are used in Regular Forces. In Scotland, Special Constabularies do not have grade structure.  With some local variations, in England and Wales, they are normally as follows:





County Special Constable

Metropolitan Special Constable

Regular Constable

Special Constable

Special Constable Special Constable Police Constable Number + SC
Section Officer Sub-Divisional  Officer Sergeant Number + One Bar + SC
Area or Divisional Officer Divisional Officer Inspector Two Bars + SC
Chief Area or Divisional Officer Area Commandant Chief Inspector Three Bars + SC
Chief Officer  or Commandant Chief Commandant Assistant Chief Constable Four Bars + SC

The grade structure is used for administration purposes and for events policed solely by SC’s. A PC is always senior whenever they accompany a SC, irrespective of the SC’s grade.

SC’s are recruited between the ages of 18½ and 50, and normally retire at 55, although they may continue to 60 on a yearly extension basis, subject to fitness. All grades are unpaid volunteers; uniforms and all equipment are provided free. Out of pocket expenses and travel costs are reimbursed.

Basic training upon acceptance is spread over twelve weeks, after which a magistrate swears in the SC and they receive their uniform and warrant card. Once operational, training continues with a rolling programme during the SC’s two-year probationary period after which authority for independent patrol, driving police vehicles, supervisory grades, etc. may be achieved.

The same as PC’s, SC’s do not routinely carry firearms. All forces train and issue SC’s with rigid handcuffs, batons and CS incapacitant sprays for restraint and defence, and protective vests are now being issued to SCs.

Deployment of SC’s varies between individual forces, from accompanying PC’s on mobile or foot patrol, independent vehicle patrol, special events, pro-active targeting, special operations, etc. In many forces SC’s are now being given their own targeted policing objectives such as focusing on anti-social behaviour of young people on housing estates, Neighbourhood Watch schemes and attending low priority commitments. All of which release PC’s to concentrate on more serious incidents.

SC’s work both in uniform and plain clothes and the minimum commitment required is 16 hours operational duty per month.

There is no representative association for SC’s in the UK at present, although the Police Federation, which represents PC’s, has recently indicated it may be prepared to accept SC’s into it’s membership. A quarterly magazine ‘Special Beat’ is produced by the Home Office and distributed by post to all SC’s.

Recently the Home Office have implemented a number of changes in the conditions of service for SC’s, such as injury on duty compensation, legal representation against complaints and transfers between forces. The second National Conference of the UK Special Constabulary was held last year in November.

As of this update, the Home Office is considering paying Special Constables for the first time.  The UK is the only country in Europe not to pay its reserves.  In Germany for example, reserves are paid $6.00 an hour, which is tax free.


Rod Attewell

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New York Auxiliaries – April 2001

Rod Attewell
 is a Section Officer (Sergeant) with Thames Valley Police based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, Great Britain. He has been a Special Constable for 15 years, and is also the Radio Communications Manager of Thames Valley Police in his professional employment.  He is a member of the Reserve Law Officers Association of America, and the International Police Association. He was awarded the Queens Special Constabulary long service medal in 1997. He can be contacted for further information on the UK Police Reserve at:

 E-mail:  or by Fax on: +44 1235 526044.

Last modified 13 July 2002

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