“Devon and Cornwall’s Crime Tsar has come under fire for defending a new police scheme appealing for volunteer drivers to give officers lifts to routine jobs.
The region’s Police Crime Commissioner (PCC), Alison Hernandez, has spoken out in support of ‘police support volunteers’ after Plymouth officers turned to Twitter to find drivers to take them to meetings, police stations and other matters.
The scheme has since been slammed by union bosses, who are concerned about the use of unpaid “amateurs”, while Miss Hernandez’s political opponents have called it “desperate”.
But the Tory commissioner, who was elected earlier this year, insists using volunteers will help “free up” officers on the street.
“It is great that members of the public want to play a part in local policing, and the role of volunteers, while not replacing officers and staff, is important in contributing to our efficiency and effectiveness in Devon and Cornwall,” she told The Herald.
“There are many ways this is demonstrated. The Plymouth volunteer drivers scheme helps to free up officers to be on the streets. That is exactly where people tell me that they want to see officers.
“I support this scheme and urge local residents to put their names forward if they can, or look for other opportunities across the force area.”
But Gareth Derrick, who stood against Miss Hernandez as the Labour candidate in the PCC Devon and Cornwall elections in May, described the scheme as “desperate”.
“This is yet another indication of how far we have fallen in being prepared to accept inadequate funding of key public services under this Tory government,” he said.
I would have expected our newly-elected PCC to be pushing hard for the police funding formula review – not putting into place frankly desperate schemes to keep our police force on the move.”
It comes after Unison bosses expressed concern at the increased use of volunteers to replace paid staff.
In a new report, the trade union found a “bewildering range of police functions” were now being given to “well-meaning amateurs” at a time of massive cuts to the general workforce.
This includes volunteer drivers, stolen goods researchers, intelligence inputters and crime scene investigators – roles which would normally be paid.
Fred Jerome, regional Unison spokesman, said the volunteer scheme in Plymouth was currently “small scale” but he warned against possible expansion in the future.
“From what they [Devon and Cornwall police] are saying, it already happens and has been happening,” he revealed.
“In general, it’s small scale and a lot are retired police force. It seems to be a way for older people to do something helpful.
“But if it were to expand and become a full-time job, it should be treated as a full-time job.
“It is something that seems fairly innocuous at the moment but we are keeping a close eye on it.”