County Times reporter Harley Tamplin reports on Sussex Police’s Special Constable training day earlier this month.
They are ordinary people - trained vigorously, of course - that become extraordinary once they have changed into police uniforms.
Special Constables are the superheroes of the police force, members of the community that protect and serve for the good of the community.
Specials are just as qualified as their colleagues in the regular police, and have the same authority. The only difference is they are not paid.
Last year alone, the 364 Specials working for Sussex Police contributed 82,000 hours of work in the county.
It is about the love of the role, not money, Special Constables (SCs) Neil Worth and Heather Gibbons explain.
The pair volunteer for Horsham police, on patrol across the Horsham district. “It is about giving something back to the community”, SC Gibbons says. “It is very fulfilling.”
On Saturday April 5, I join around 20 Specials for a training refresher day at Sussex Police’s Lewes headquarters.
The day is part of Specials Awareness Weekend - highlighting the capabilities and responsibilities of these officers.
Extensive training is vital for the volunteer police, and the three trainers - all of whom are current or former PCs - teach self defence and instruct how to react in life-threatening situations.
They are professional, focused and thorough, yet the three could not be further from the boot camp drill sergeant stereotype.
They are enthusiastic, and have to be - fitness is top of the agenda, and it is the trainers’ jobs to convince the volunteers that running the infamous Bleep Test is a far better way of spending a Saturday morning than a lie in and breakfast in bed.
The relief around the room is palpable once all the Specials have passed the test, which involves running back and forth in time to automated ‘bleeps’, gradually increasing in intensity.
Baton training, which proves popular with the Specials, is next. A dummy that appears to have taken several hundred beatings over the years is the target, with the officers reminded which body parts should be targeted, and which should be avoided.
A baton is thrust in my direction. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end - it is heavier than I expect.
In the next refresher, I become a somewhat reluctant volunteer as a trainer shows the best way to handcuff an offender, before the officers practise on one another.
Continuing the fast-paced and active day is a drill involving use of pepper spray - replaced, thankfully, by water for training purposes.
The Specials order the beaten dummy to drop its weapon - in one event a grenade is mooted as a possibility - then firing the spray and, in case of its failure, launching into a trusty baton strike.
Joshua Bellamy, specials co-ordinator for Sussex Police, arrives to watch the officers work on their skills.
“Things like this are obviously really valuable so our specials, even as a voluntary workforce, are able to stay up to the same standard of training,” he explains.
“They need to be trained and have the confidence to do the role that they give their time for.”
As the training recommences, I am pinned to the floor and handcuffed, with industry-strength tape wrapped around my motionless legs. It’s not comfortable.
In the afternoon, the group works on the ‘spear’ method of self-defence.
It’s a useful skill, remarkable in its effectiveness - the trainers show how one of the more petite female Specials can defend against one of the larger men by blocking at a certain angle. The day ends with a refresher in takedowns and pins, for which I have the dubious pleasure of practising with the Horsham-based Specials.
SC Gibbons takes no prisoners with her takedowns - a slightly battered SC Worth grumbles as he picks himself up off the ground.
It’s a laugh at times, he tells me, but the skills practised on these days could easily be utilised the next evening the Specials are on patrol.
The drill is safe, and aside from a few sore limbs there are no injuries.
SC Gibbons, who has volunteered in Horsham since 2012, explained why Specials Awareness Weekend is important. “I don’t think people are quite aware of specials, so it is nice to be recognised, it makes us feel valued.”
SC Worth adds: “We do it in our own time, helping people and the community.
“Having that national recognition from an organisation that has been around for 150 years is great. We are all part of the team.”
It is at this point where I have a lapse of judgement and ask the veteran police trainer to put me in the most uncomfortable lock possible. My shoulder and wrist are made immobile by the pressure, and he is able to move me around the room with ease.
When the training finishes, the Specials leave and those in streetwear immediately blend back in with the public. They may be ordinary people with ordinary day jobs - but these officers are anything but ordinary.