A step too far? 18 months unpaid work with the Met

So you want to be a police officer; enforce law, fight crime, and generally look out for the health and safety of your community. But however much your passion to work towards the good of the nation is, would you be prepared to do it for free – for up to 18 months?

Well you might have to, if new recruitment plans proposed by the Metropolitan Police go ahead.

Reports yesterday explained how the procedure – to scrap training schools and make recruits work as unpaid special constables before they join up – could save Scotland Yard millions of pounds, a necessity if the Home Office’s 25% policing cuts are to be met.

The change would mean that two thirds of recruits would have to commit to working 16 hours a month for 18 months as volunteer special constables before they would be considered for permanent full-time employment. The rest would come from the Met’s community support officers or have law and policing qualifications.

Martin Tiplady, the head of the Met’s human resources, described the move to the BBC as the “right way forward”.

He said: “This will deliver savings of between £12,000 and £20,000 per officer in salary costs during their training period. More importantly, our future police officer recruits will hit the ground running with full patrol status at the outset.

“This approach simply allows those considering a career as an officer to sample the job and acquire the right skills.”

With Police forces nationwide having to cut back on recruitment to solve financial problems, the move is hoped to offer an alternative way of getting people back into the forces, whilst also maintaining the high level of policing service which can only be sustained with sufficient manpower.

The scheme, however, has been heavily criticised, with opposition groups claiming that the plan was “fundamentally flawed”, and would lead to the recruitment of only middle-class people who have the time / funds to comply.

Jenny Jones of the Green Party, said. “Many people just won’t be able to afford to become a police officer. It would mean they would have to work part-time for the Met for the first 12 to 18 months. I think this will narrow the field of people who are able to join the force.”

Police unquestionably play an important, vital and often risky role throughout the country. To enforce an 18 month voluntary obligation will undoubtedly frustrate many of those eager to get in and get crime fighting. However, some perspective on the situation needs to be maintained.

Whether this plan gets officially passed or not, those eager crime fighters will still have some time to wait before they are on the streets chasing law breakers. The fact is the government wants the 43 police forces in England and Wales to find total savings of £545m by 2014, meaning that there simply isn’t the money available to recruit people right now. Just earlier this year the Met admitted that they had 2,000 successful applicants waiting to start their jobs – but didn’t have the funds to place them.

So assumedly these people have had to find other jobs to support themselves in the meantime? It may be disappointing to have to work at what was considered a ‘temporary’ role for a bit longer, but the time will fly by – especially with their policing goal to look forward to at the end. Plus, the scheme includes extra official training, and provides the opportunity to really experience what the job entails. This allows candidates to quickly realise if policing is for them, rather than waiting eighteen months and then having to figure out that career plan all over again.

Furthermore, the requirement is 16 hours of voluntary work a month. This equals less than four hours a week. To suggest that people cannot afford to give up four hours a week of their time seems a little far fetched. What’s more, most would undoubtedly really enjoy the change in their schedule – and if they didn’t? Then maybe policing isn’t the job for them after all.

What do you think? Is making new police recruits volunteer for up to 18 months a step too far? Let us know!