Police Support Volunteers National Benchmarking 2021

Iain Britton, Joanna Binley, Matthew Callender, Kathryn Cahalin

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned Report


This report presents analysis from the national Police Support Volunteer (PSV) data benchmarking exercise. All police forces in England and Wales completed a survey in summer 2021, covering data and operational elements of their PSV programmes. This report follows on from similar national benchmarking undertaken across all forces in 2016 and 2018.
Key findings from the PSV national benchmarking exercise are summarised below:

The impact of Covid-19
- Covid-19 has had a significant impact on PSV programmes. Most police forces (34) had suspended their PSV programmes at some point during the pandemic period, and a similar proportion had experienced disruption in recruitment. Most forces have changed roles for PSVs and how they manage and communicate across their PSV programmes. Estimates in this benchmarking exercise for PSV hours nationally, at 190,000, are well below previous benchmarking estimates of 450,000 hours in 2018 and c.600,000 hours in 2016, with Covid-19 likely a predominant factor in that pattern.

Numbers of PSVs
- There were 7632 PSVs counted by forces in this benchmarking exercise. This is broadly consistent with the circa 8,000 PSVs headcount of recent police national workforce statistics. The figure is a little lower than the most recent national statistics and previous benchmarking surveys.
- Key challenges remain with the quality of data in relation to PSVs. The figures that some individual police forces report for their PSV numbers fluctuate significantly, there are major gaps in some areas of data (e.g. ethnic diversity, disability), and there remain grey areas in terms of definitions and counting.
- Cadet Leaders represent a sizeable proportion of PSVs (12.2% in this benchmarking exercise). However, not all forces consider and count Cadet Leaders as being PSVs (10 do not count them), and aligning figures with the recent national VPC Census, across forces there are hundreds of volunteer Cadet Leaders not counted as PSVs.
- Differences in practice remain in terms of volunteer Chaplains (counted by 33 forces as PSVs) and Community Speedwatch (CSW) volunteers (counted by 13). Whilst over four hundred volunteers with CSW are managed and counted by their forces as PSVs, there are an estimated several thousand other CSW volunteers not counted as such.
- PSV programmes in individual forces vary a great deal in scale. About a dozen forces have relatively small PSV programmes, in the tens rather than hundreds of volunteers. At the other end of the spectrum, a handful of police forces have several hundred PSVs.
- In terms of comparative scale, the variation is also substantial. Comparing headcount of PSVs by force population, regular officer numbers, or police staff numbers, the scale of variation is that some force PSV programmes are eight to ten times as large as others.
Who volunteers as a PSV?
- As was the case in previous benchmarking surveys in 2016 and 2018, this benchmarking survey shows roughly a 50:50 split in terms of male and female PSVs.
- The age profile is also very similar to that identified in the 2018 benchmarking exercise, with perhaps a slight growth in younger PSVs and commensurately small reduction in older PSVs. There remains an age range between thirty and fifty where there are relatively smaller numbers of PSVs. The main headline in terms of age profile is the large proportion of PSVs who are over fifty, and within that over sixty. This contrasts with other elements of the police family.
Length of service and reasons for leaving- In terms of length of service, the pattern is also very similar to the 2018 benchmarking survey; four in ten PSVs are within their first two years of service, with only a quarter having served more than five years. Whilst the profile of PSVs may be similar to the 2018 benchmarking survey, the actual population of PSVs has changed a lot: over half of the PSVs currently in cohort were not PSVs back in 2018, having joined since that benchmarking exercise took place.- Personal reasons and career change are predominant factors identified for PSVs at their point of leaving.
Delivering the PSV programme nationally and locally- The level of knowledge and engagement with elements of the national PSV programme by individual forces varies. Fourteen forces reported they were fully aware of the work of the PSV working group, twenty-two said they were somewhat aware, and eight said they were unaware. Whilst a majority of forces have engaged with the Valuing Volunteers Framework, the PSV handbook, and have access to the knowledge hub, a sizeable (and consistent) body of forces are less engaging in those elements.- In terms of future approach to recruiting PSVs, all forces have an intention to recruit, and commonly forces identify the need for recruitment to be driven by ‘business’ needs, raising internal buy-in and promotion of PSVs as being important. The degree to which there is a broader strategy for recruiting PSVs seems to vary, with seventeen forces reporting that they have a strategic recruitment plan.- Barriers identified by forces to future recruitment reflect some key common themes. These include processes that are often long, drawn-out, and time consuming, there are sometimes limitations experienced in terms of engagement by the ‘business’, and internal ‘blockages’, and there are challenges in achieving reach, diversity, and recruitment of minority groups across PSVs, as well as some aspects of age of volunteers.- Broadly half of forces (22) said that they would welcome additional assistance and resources to help them in their recruitment.- Only thirteen forces reported that they had training specifically for those who manage or are responsible for PSVs.
Developing the roles of PSVs- Despite having now been available for several years, there still remains virtually no take-up of the opportunity to designate powers to non-warranted volunteers. Only one police force, Kent, is currently developing this approach. Four other forces have indicated an intent to consider this in the future.- Half of forces (22) reported that they have volunteer roles in partnership with other agencies. The extent of partnership volunteer roles varied, with a handful of forces having substantively developed in this aspect across a larger number of roles.- Across forces, it is recognised that there is limited opportunity for ongoing PSV training and often few developmental opportunities. Challenges to delivering training for PSVs were identified and including the limited extent of development pathways, limited resources to deliver training (and competing demands on learning and development staff), and the challenges of PSV availability for training. Thirty-one forces said they would like to see more support for forces around training and developing PSVs.
Employer Supported Volunteering- Eighteen forces reported that they ESP for their PSVs who are police staff, whilst 24 said that they have not. These arrangements have developed at a local level and show a wide range of variation between those forces.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherInstitute of Public Safety, Crime and Justice
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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