Cambridgeshire police says it is having to appeal to volunteers to wash its patrols cars and help find stolen property because it is so short of cash.
The force this week advertised for two volunteer positions on their website as part of their latest money-saving bid.
It is seeking a ‘Vehicle Tasking Volunteer’ and a ‘Property Recovery Volunteer.’
The volunteers will expected to work four hours a week and although they will not be paid, they will ‘gain valuable skills and enhance their CV’.
The Property Recovery Volunteer advert reads: “To provide an enhanced capability for local officers to locate and recover stolen property, you will routinely visit local car boot sales, antique dealers and various pawn shops to attempt to locate stolen items.
“This will reunite victims with their missing items, increase forensic opportunities and provide valuable intelligence to the Constabulary.”
The Vehicle Taking Volunteer advert reads: “We are asking for volunteers to keep our vehicles ready for action by performing weekly safety checks, maintaining essential equipment and keeping our cars looking professional.”
Campaigners have hit out at the force, saying volunteers shouldn’t be doing the jobs of detectives.
Last month the force hit the headlines when it revealed it was going to interview the victims of minor crime using the web-based telephone service Skype to save the time of officers.
Cambridge resident and campaigner on policing, Richard Taylor, said: “The role of the ‘property recovery volunteer’ sounds to me like a core part of the job of a detective investigating a burglary.
“I don’t think burglary investigations ought be carried out by volunteers.”
However Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, supported the move and said more forces should be looking at ways like this to save money.
He said: “It’s a bit of a stretch to say trawling websites and car boot sales is full-on detective work, so it’s good news that the force is seeking help without costing taxpayers’ more money.
“If civic-minded people are willing to give up their time to help the police carry out their work then that’s a good thing and it should be encouraged, so long as there is a line between volunteers and roles that require training or are dangerous.”
A Cambridgeshire Police spokeswoman said: “Volunteers are a vital part of the force particularly as we continue to face financial challenges
“All volunteers are vetted in the same way a paid member of staff is, however the difference is that it is not mandatory for our volunteers to have experience in the field they work for us.
“We provide them with all the necessary training, support and development for the to gain valuable skills and enhance their CV.”
Interviews for both roles will be held in the week commencing December 14 and the closing date for applications is December 9.
The Cambridgeshire force has had to make a 14% cut in its budget over the last five years, saving £13.3m in the last two years.
It currently employs a total of 1,343 officers and 150 PCSOs.
Joint Branch Board Secretary for Cambridgeshire Police Federation, Oz Merrygold, said that due to previous cuts in the police budget, they were now having to seek free labour.
He said: “In relation to the amount of cuts, despite the government announcement on protecting police funding, the police in general are still having to face-up to large cuts from previous budgets.
“Now, effectively we’re having to look for cheap employment and free labour.
“Personally I think it’s no different to police specials who have served the force for many years and perform jobs that simply have to be done.
“We’re suffering the reality of having to make cuts and we’re still dealing with massive cuts from before.”
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Sir Graham Bright said: “I would not support the use of volunteers as detectives.
“However, the Property Recovery Volunteer Position is not a detective role.
“As with all volunteer positions, this role will provide additional capacity and allow members of the public to play a part in identifying stolen property in their community.”
A Cambridgeshire Police spokeswoman added: “The force wants to encourage people to join us in our fight against crime.
“The property recovery volunteers will not have a role investigating individual crimes.
“The role is about providing additional capacity in our ability to locate and recover, and more importantly reunite people with their stolen property.
“This role is not a detective role and its creation is not driven by budget constraints.
“was created to help strengthen our response to burglary and increase our opportunities to trace stolen property.
“It does not require any specialist skills but some basic training is provided and volunteers spend their time checking through online sites and visiting areas such as car boot sales, to identify stolen items.
“If any are found police officers will do all of the investigative work.”