Metropolitan Special Constabulary
The Metropolitan Special Constabulary (MSC) is the part-time volunteer police force of the Metropolitan Police Service. It is one of three Special Constabularies operating within London, the others belonging to City of London Police and British Transport Police. The MSC was created over 180 years ago under the Special Constables Act of 1831 and currently consists of 3,200 officers, making it the largest in the UK.
Officers of the MSC hold the 'Office of Constable' and therefore have full powers and privileges of a Police Officer throughout England and Wales, both on and off duty. They wear the same uniform and engage in the same work as regular police officers, such as foot & vehicle patrols (whether alone, with another special constable or with a regular police officer), attending incidents, specific operations and the policing of major events.
Special Constables are required to undertake a minimum of 200 hours of operational duties every year, spread over a minimum of 16 hours per month. However, many do more than the basic requirement.
Numbers and distribution
Each Borough Operational Command Unit (BOCU) which provides policing for each of the 32 London boroughs has a contingent of Special Constables, usually supervised by a number of Special Sergeants and a Special Inspector, on occasion in partnership with a regular officer . Some BOCUs may have as many as 150 MSC officers, Westminster has over 300, the vast majority have closer to 50 officers.
A number of Specials are sponsored by their employers as part of the Employer Supported Policing (ESP) scheme, in which employers release their employees for a specific amount of time every fortnight to perform MSC duties.
Special Constables have the freedom to choose the borough they work in, their duties and their hours. The teams in which specials work depends on their BOCU - some prefer to task their specials to local policing teams (LPT), whilst others work on a variety of other teams and operations. There are a small number of Special Constables who are part of specialist units such as the Marine Policing Unit, Heathrow Airport OCU (ID), Organised & Economic Crime, Roads & Transport Policing Command (T) (created after the merger of Traffic OCU (TD) and Safer Transport Command (ST)).
Special constables undergo a structured recruitment process from application to the offer of an appointment. After an initial assessment of a Specials application, suitable candidates are invited to attend the Selection Centre at Empress State Building.
In 2014 the assessment process was combined into a single day (compared to the separate Day One, Day Two process). The one-day event allows the timely release of candidates that have failed any of the assessments. Throughout the day, the following qualities and competencies are assessed: decision making, communication, personal responsibility, resilience, respect for diversity, customer focus and teamwork.
The assessment day comprises:
- A 30-minute written assessment based on a given scenario
- A 20-minute competency based interview with two serving officers or lay interviewers.
- A Full Medical examination which is conducted by a registered Nurse who checks various aspects of a candidate’s health, including eyesight and hearing
- A check of paperwork and copying of required documents
- Job Related Fitness Test (a bleep test)
Security and Vetting: If a candidate is successful on assessment day, they have to pass security and vetting which can take anything from a few weeks to up to a year. If security and vetting checks prove satisfactory, a candidate is offered a place on an MSC training course. The candidate pass rate for the assessments is around 1 in 7.
Training and equipment
The MSC Foundation Training course consists of twenty-three days of training, incorporating five days of officer safety training (previously four days) and two days of first aid training, with the remainder being classroom-based learning covering the necessary knowledge and skills needed by officers for the execution of their duties as special constables. The training consists of three main assessments to ensure knowledge and additional assessments for Officer Safety Training and Emergency Life Support.
Delivery of the course is offered in three forms, which recruits choose according to their convenience, as an intensive course taken over four weeks and three days, a weekend course taking place on 23 consecutive Saturdays or Sundays, or as a hybrid course consisting of two weeks intensive training followed by the remaining thirteen weekends (either Saturday or Sunday). In addition to the Training School at Hendon, MSC Foundation Training is now conducted at local training sites in south, east and west London.
After completing their initial training, further training is provided at their local Borough and units, which continues throughout their career. MSC Officers are trained to police public order events, and resources permitting, officers can also be trained as response drivers, cyclists and other skilled roles.
During the course of their training special constables are issued with the same uniform and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as their regular colleagues (batons, handcuffs and CS spray). When the uniform is issued, Special Constables are expected to wear it during training.
Once Special Constables have finished their foundation training, they take the Police Oath at an attestation ceremony either at New Scotland Yard or Hendon Police College. At this event, they are issued with their Warrant Card and then enjoy the full powers and privileges of a Constable throughout England and Wales and adjacent Waters.
MSC officers receive no payment for duties they perform. However, they can claim travel costs and receive a subsistence allowance. They are also afforded free travel both on/off duty on the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, London Buses the Croydon Tramlink and London Overground, by virtue of arrangements with TFL.
Supervision & Leadership
The MSC grade structure is as follows:
- Special Constable - (SC)
- Special Sergeant - (S/Sgt or SPS)
- Special Inspector - (S/Insp)
- Special Chief Inspector - (S/Ch Insp)
- Assistant Chief Officer MSC - (ACO)
- Deputy Chief Officer MSC - (DCO)
- Chief Officer MSC - (CO)
The current Chief Officer MSC is John Conway.
MSC grades are not equivalent to those of regular police ranks (i.e. a Special Sergeant does not have the same legal authority as a Police Sergeant). All MSC officers, regardless of grade, hold the office of "Constable". MSC grades are responsible for the line management of MSC officers below him/her but do not have authority over regular officers of any rank. Regular officers take primacy at police incidents regardless of MSC grades in attendance.
As with regular ranks, MSC grades can be held on an 'acting', 'temporary' or 'substantive' basis.
The MSC wear the same uniform as regular MPS police officers but are distinguishable by their epaulette insignia.
The main insignia which separates MSC from regular officers is the "SC Crown" which is worn at the top of the epaulette by MSC officers of all grades. Special Constables wear their "Borough Code", usually a two-letter code, which signifies which borough or specialist unit they are attached to. Below this, at the bottom of their epaulette, is their shoulder number (aka. collar number) - usually a four digit number beginning with a 5 (or an 8 if attached to Roads & Transport Policing Command). Unlike City of London Police Special Constabulary, graded MSC officers do not wear the same rank insignia as their regular counterparts but instead use "bars". A Special Sergeant's insignia is similar to a Special Constable's except they wear one bar underneath a 4-digit shoulder number beginning with 50 (or 80 for RTPC). As with regular police ranks, officers graded above sergeant do not wear borough codes or shoulder numbers. Special Inspectors wear 2 bars underneath their SC Crown and Special Chief Inspectors wear 3 bars, evenly spaced. Senior MSC grades wear laurel wreaths which encase 2 short bars for Assistant Chief Officers, 3 for the Deputy Chief Officer or 4 for the Chief Officer.
Unlike epaulette insignia, MSC grades do wear the same decoration on their headwear as the equivalent regular rank. S/Insps & S/Ch Insps wear flat caps with a raised black band on the cap (or under the force crest on female hats). ACOs where a raised single row of silver oak leaves on their cap (identical to Commander rank) while the DCO and CO wear two raised rows of silver oak leaves (identical to Deputy Assistant Commissioners and above). As well as headwear, senior MSC grades also wear lapel decoration identical to regular senior officers on their tunics.