Volunteers in Policing
: Understanding the Role, Identity and Experiences of Special Constables

  • Graeme Dickson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Placed at the intersection between policing and volunteering, special constables – unpaid, warranted, part-time, uniformed police officers within the United Kingdom –represent a unique, and underrepresented, figure within the research literature in both fields. This thesis explores the ways in which these volunteers construct their identities, perceive their roles, and experience the policing environment by reflecting on the features of volunteering and policing which frame and shape their volunteering activity.

    This mixed-methods, comparative study enhances the understanding of the role that volunteer characteristics and motivations have on the way that volunteers interact with the organisations to which they contribute. By examining the motivations and experiences of volunteering within the Special Constabulary, this thesis demonstrates the ways in which different special constables – with different volunteering motivations and experiences of volunteering their time to policing organisations– construct their identities and understand their role within the policing organisations. By examining the special constables in such a way and by placing their volunteering characteristics at the centre of its data analysis, this thesis provides evidence which illustrates how these policing volunteers interact with, and perceive, the structural, organisational and cultural features of the policing environment, as well as the impacts that these features have on their understanding of the role they play within the policing organisation.

    This analysis, which places the volunteers and their individual experiences in the policing context, is used to develop a typology and to characterise the different types of special constable that may exist in the United Kingdom. Using qualitative and quantitative data, this thesis puts forward the case that the Special Constabulary represents its own unique policing culture. This thesis considers how the experiences and management of the Special Constabulary could be improved by focusing on the special constable as a volunteer with unique volunteering needs, rather than focusing on them as a policing resource.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorMegan O'Neill (Supervisor) & Nicholas Fyfe (Supervisor)


    • Police
    • Volunteering

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