A special (police) constable (SC or SPC) is a law enforcement officer who is not a regular member of a police force. Some like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry the same law enforcement powers as regular members, but are employed in specific roles, such as explosive disposal technicians, court security, or executive protection for diplomats. Depending on the department some are members of a volunteer police auxiliary.
Many police departments are complemented by a Special Constabulary, members of which are referred to as special constables, or, more colloquially, "specials." Special Constables hold full police powers and hold the office of constable. Historically and in different contexts, special constables have been paid or volunteer members of an ad hoc reserve force or a permanent auxiliary, and have ranged from unarmed patrols to armed paramilitaries.
In the Australian state of New South Wales, special constables may be appointed by a Magistrate or two Justices of the Peace where "tumult, riot, or serious indictable offence has taken place, or may be reasonably apprehended" and the Magistrate or Justices believe that "the ordinary constables or officers appointed for preserving the peace are not sufficient for the preservation of the peace, and for the protection of the inhabitants and the security of their property, or for the apprehension of offenders". Special constables, as appointed under the Police (Special Provisions) Act 1901, have the same powers as constables of the New South Wales Police Force. Similar provisions apply in other Australian states.
Inspectors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are generally appointed as special constables, and a requirement of employment as a Transit Officer is eligibility to be appointed as a special constable.
Members of police bands are also appointed as special constables.
State police stationed near their state borders are sometimes assigned the status of special constable in the neighbouring state to allow hot pursuit of offenders across state borders and lawful arrest on the other side.
Special constables are also employed by various local government agencies in New South Wales including the RSPCA (Australia Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), local councils, NSW Railcorp and NSW Health to enforce such laws such as cruelty to animals, parking, enforce railway laws and prevent disorder in certain circumstances. The NSW Police Force employs Special Constables as an armed internal security force. This special internal unit provides protective services to government departments like the Premiers Office, ICAC, NSW Governor and DPP. They also protect covert police locations and have a mobile rapid deployment team (MIST - Major Incident Security Team)with advanced firearms and defensive tactics training, for special assignments.
Special Constables were used extensively in Canada prior to the Second World War to quell labour unrest. After the war, industrial relations became far less militant and many of the larger urban police forces created permanent auxiliary units.
The most notorious use of special constables in Canadian history was during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. The entire Winnipeg police force was dismissed because its members refused to sign an anti-union pledge and was replaced by a much larger and better paid force of untrained Special Constables explicitly to end the strike and the police union.
Today, in Canada the term Special Constable does not signify a police volunteer. Instead, they are sworn-in and employed by Police Services, law enforcement agencies or the provincial ministry responsible for law enforcement to undertake specific duties many of which require the powers of a police officer, such as University, Housing, and Transit Constables.
Special Constables in Ontario employed by Police Services, such as court security officers, prisoner transport officers, cell block officers and snowmobile trail patrol officers, are sworn-in pursuant to section 53 of the Police Services Act which confers Peace Officer Status. Special Constables have the powers of a Police Officer to enforce Federal Statutes and various Provincial Statutes while in the execution of their specifically appointed duties throughout Ontario.
Special Constables are generally not armed with firearms, the exception being police services and Niagara Parks Police. At times, provinces may need to swear in a visiting police service to allow peace officer status. This is frequent with RCMP in Ontario as well as Sûreté du Québec in Ontario. Cross jurisdictional issues can be alleviated with special constable appointments. The government may also appoint special constables, who only need the authority to serve summons and subpoenas, etc.
These are usually investigators from government agencies, for example the Competition Bureau and Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Special Constable appointment is not a replacement for a police officer. The appointment confers limited authority and the jurisdictional police will still have overall law enforcement authority and responsibility regardless of the special constable. For example, on a University Campus or a Transit System, special constables may deal with crimes, however the local police will have the overall responsibility for the Criminal Code enforcement.
Volunteers with provincial and municipal police departments in Canada are called Reserve or Auxiliary Constables.
Examples of Special Constables in Canada:
Hong Kong Police Force and the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force are the only two police forces in Hong Kong during peacetime. However, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong can, pursuant to HK Laws. Chap 245 Public Order Ordinance section 40, appoint special constables anytime and they will possess any powers given to regular police officers and are subjected to the same Code of Conduct as their regular counterparts.
However, under section 41(3) of the same ordinance, special constables are not entitled to benefits, pays or pensions.