West Yorkshire’s police chiefs insist a bid to recruit a new army of volunteer officers is not “policing on the cheap”.
Chief Constable Mark Gilmore and Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson were in Leeds to launch a drive to more than treble its current number of special constables from about 400 to 1,500.
Specials have the same powers and responsibilities as regular officers but are only paid expenses.
The recruitment drive comes at a time when the force is having to make savings of about £157 million over six years.
But both Mr Gilmore and Mr Burns-Williamson denied they were replacing paid officers with free labour.
Mr Gilmore said: “People who look at it from that perspective are missing the point. This is about our organisation connecting with the community, tapping into the cultural awareness and experience that exist.
“Policing is a contract that has to be renewed on a daily basis with the public and there’s no better way to do that than have members of the public in the police and the police as members of the public.”
Mr Burns-Williamson added: “It’s not policing on the cheap.
“There’s no doubt we’re under pressure and losing millions of pounds out of the budget. But the strategy isn’t about plugging the gaps it’s about providing additional resources and building confidence within communities.”
The two men were at the Hamara Centre in Beeston to launch the recruitment campaign.
They said there was a particular emphasis on signing up people from minority backgrounds.
Mr Burns-Williamson said: “We need to do more and it’s one of my aims to have a higher proportion of black and minority ethnic officers and staff because very diverse areas like Beeston, Harehills and Chapeltown have diverse populations who are under-represented. We can do so much more to build bridges and confidence in the police.”
Law student Minal Supri, 30, from Harehills, said she had been involved in responding to burglaries and bank robberies during her four years as a special in the city centre.
She said: “I love it because it’s challenging personally and professionally and I feel like I’m making a dfference to our city.”