Volunteers’ Week is an opportunity to celebrate all of these people who offer their time free of charge to strengthen the community safety and punishment services provided around the county.
As well as the many volunteers who work with Essex Police and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for Essex works with three different types of volunteers – restorative justice volunteers, independent custody volunteers and dog welfare volunteers.
The Essex Restorative and Mediation Service, created by the PFCC, holds offenders – responsible for criminal offences or conflict such as graffiti or antisocial behaviour – to account and helps them to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.
Both parties discuss next steps and the perpetrators can make amends. Victims are given the chance to explain the impact the crime or conflict has had on them, ask questions of the perpetrator and seek an resolution.
Retired Met Police officer Mandy Chapman has been a restorative justice volunteer for almost a year, having served 30 years as a frontline officer.
Her role involves speaking with victims and perpetrators ahead of a meeting where she mediates to ensure both sides have their say.
She said: “Everyone – the police, fire, ambulance service, NHS – is under pressure with financial cuts, but there are so many of us with time available who can give that time to help as volunteers. We all have got something to give. Time is precious, but if you can make that time work for other people as well as yourself, that is a great use of time.
“The opportunity really caught my eye as it looked interesting and it is really rewarding to do. There is a satisfaction from bringing people together, resolving issues and giving those people who have experienced crime some closure.
“It could be someone who has been burgled who fears their home has been watched for weeks. Instead, they meet the perpetrator who explains it was, in fact, the first time he had been down that road, that he was desperate to get money for drugs and took a chance on that property.
“It’s an incredible system; giving both sides the opportunity to speak is so effective.”
Volunteers also work with the PFCC to carry out the obligatory Independent Custody Visitor scheme.
The scheme sees volunteers visit police station custody suites to check on the treatment of detainees, the conditions they are held in and that their rights and entitlements are being met.
Richard Wicks started working as an independent custody volunteer in 2011 and has been the Essex co-ordinator for the last three years. Volunteers carry out between two and four visits to custody suites per month, day or night, and complete a simple report on their findings.
Mr Wicks, who works his role around a full-time job, said: “By checking detainees are being treated fairly and that their welfare and religious needs are being met, I feel I have done something good. I am there to check they have been fed and had a drink and to listen to any concerns. The detainees often thank us for checking on them as it makes them feel as though they are being respected. That is the personal benefit to me for volunteering in this way.”
An extra five custody volunteers will be recruited in the next couple of months to join the existing team of 15. The ideal candidates are aged over 18, able to drive and pass a vetting process. Hours are flexible and the hour-long visits can be carried out at times to suit the volunteer’s employment.
The Dog Welfare Lay Visitor Scheme sees the conditions under which police dogs are trained, transported, deployed and cared for observed by volunteers.
Run by the PFCC, the scheme provides an independent monitoring body to advise and make recommendations on the care of animals.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “I am hugely grateful for the invaluable contribution made by our volunteers in providing services and support for the county. The time the Dog Welfare Scheme Visitors dedicate ensures the continued welfare of Essex Police’s working dogs; and the Independent Custody Visitors underpin the safe and effective running of the county’s custody suites. The impact our restorative justice volunteers have on people’s lives by helping them to resolve situations where people are suffering harm or who are the victims of persistent nuisance behaviour cannot be underestimated. They make a huge difference to people’s lives.”
If your enquiry relates to operational policing or a crime please contact Essex Police here