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11 January 2019, 15:33 | Updated: 11 January 2019, 15:38
The Police Federation say Essex Police's decision to hire "volunteer detectives" to help it investigate serious crimes is evidence of a recruitment "crisis".
The force are advertising two unpaid special constable roles to support detectives in the Serious Crime Directorate, with a job post online asking "Do you want to help investigate the most serious crimes in Essex including murders, attempted murders, stranger rapes and kidnappings?" It goes on to say that "Working alongside detectives, you'll receive training to help you bring justice to some of the most serious criminals in Essex" and adds that potential recruits need to be "driven, organised and self-motivated individuals who can volunteer for a minimum of 16 hours a month".
The creation of the new roles has been called "unacceptable" by critics.
Karen Stephens, secretary of the National Police Federation of England and Wales Detectives' Forum, said: "We cannot ignore that there is a crisis in detectives within policing, with a serious shortfall in the numbers of detectives seen throughout England and Wales."
She said Essex Police's recruitment of volunteer detectives was the "first of its kind" but not "surprising".
"Forces across England and Wales are struggling to cope with minimal numbers and results from our National Detectives Survey show that detectives feel overworked and overwhelmed, with morale at rock-bottom and a staggering number taking sickness absence caused by exacerbation at work," she said.
"Being a detective was always a sought-after, desirable role; however, this is no longer the case."
She added: "Whilst these volunteers wouldn't be expected to carry out the same role as a trained detective and are not to take the place of a trained detective, the lower level basic support they may be able to give overstretched detectives can only be a positive thing as long as they have the adequate training and support in place."
But Essex Police deny it represents "policing on the cheap".
Essex Police Assistant Chief Constable Nick Downing said: "This is not about policing on the cheap or lowering the status of detectives."
He said the force continued to invest in training detectives and that special constables were a key part of the "policing family".
"It may be the case that people hoping to join us as a special constable within the Serious Crime Directorate could bring specialist skills from their everyday professional life which could be really beneficial to this specialist area of policing," he added.
"It may be that someone enjoys their day job but is looking for an exciting challenge that enables them to give something back to the community.
"Or someone may be interested in a career in policing but they want to find out what it is like before they make that commitment to joining, volunteering as a special constable allows people to have the best of both worlds."
In August, Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh revealed his force was coping with 600 fewer officers and 300 fewer PCSOs than it had in 2010.
In a letter to Colchester MP Will Quince, Mr Kavanagh said his officers were under "unimaginable" strain.