It feels amazing to be making a difference’: The ex-Met Special enjoying police life in Cambridgeshire


PUBLISHED 05 Jul 2024

IN News

Since moving to the county in 2015, Cambridgeshire Police Federation member Thomas Howard has served his local community in many different capacities.

Working as a Special Constable, he would often walk the same streets of Ely and Sutton in two different uniforms over the course of a single day – in the morning, on his round as a postman for Royal Mail, and then again in the evening on neighbourhood patrol as a police officer.

Initially, this did lead to some confusion, prompting residents to stop when seeing Thomas on his Special duties and think to themselves: ‘Hang on, I thought he was my postman?’

“I remember getting a few odd looks at first,” said Thomas. “People obviously soon realised I was volunteering in my spare time. Generally, I kept it quiet that I was a Special anyway, as I didn’t want customers to act differently around me once they knew.”

Overall, though, Thomas can only look back positively on the double exposure to the same community he enjoyed for five years.

“It was very fulfilling to make so many good relationships and be that figure of trust, and that’s part of the reason I wanted to become a Special in the first place,” he added.

As 2020 rolled around, the now 31-year-old was ready for a new challenge in his day job and instead doubled up his police duties, becoming an Investigation Management Operator for Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, however, the commencement of Thomas’ new job was delayed before it could even get off the ground.

This presented a significant obstacle to Thomas, who had understandable reason to worry amid the uncertainty of a pandemic. Nevertheless, he saw it as an opportunity to take his commitment to the Special Constabulary up a notch, completing an incredible 350 hours of duty over the first UK lockdown.

“Thankfully, I had savings to get by on, so I had the chance to devote all my time to being a Special – of course I was going to take it. It wasn’t an easy time, by any means, but it did present this one-off chance,” he said.

Thomas’ efforts over lockdown included assisting with domestic incidents, which had increased in demand in light of most of the public remaining at home.

At the start of 2021, he was then able to eventually begin his formal employment in the Police, which he has remained in ever since.

His enjoyment of both his day job and voluntary role within the same force over recent years raises an obvious question: Would he ever consider merging his two responsibilities into the singular title of a regular police officer?

Thomas continued: “I’m too happy with how things are now to become a regular. I love being a Special as it’s given me the platform to do so many exciting things, and while I work hard, I rarely ever feel overworked.

“Plus, the Federation have always been so supportive, even before Specials became official members. I know they will back us up just like they do regulars, so I’ve never felt the need to change [to become a regular].”

Thomas, who has since stepped up into the role of Special Sergeant, has been involved in police projects such as the Vision Zero Team, which he founded two years ago with the aim to reduce casualties in road accidents across the region. The Team, made up of other Specials, go out to organisations, businesses and schools and deliver awareness sessions, following national themes set out by Road Safety GB.

The mission of the initiative is one close to his heart, he explained.

“Vision Zero is an absolutely fantastic team to be part of. My uncle passed away in a road accident back in 2001 after his car was hit by a drug driver, so education on safe driving is really important to me.

“I can proudly say the casualty rate in road accidents has decreased across Cambridgeshire since we started. It feels amazing to be making a difference.”

Another police campaign Thomas is set to take lead on involves high visibility foot patrols as a prevention measure for serious violence and anti-social behaviour, after being approached by a Force lead.

His growing impact in a more rural area comes after three years with the Metropolitan Police, where his career as a Special Constable started. In a baptism of fire, Thomas’ first post was on a gangs unit in Paddington Green, leaving the rookie officer wondering what he had let himself in for.

“The Met is a very different world, to say the least. It’s unforgiving for regular officers, let alone a volunteer who was learning on the job,” he revealed.

In London, Thomas also helped to police one of the world’s busiest night-time economies on posts in Soho and Covent Garden, only adding to the testing nature of his first taste of life as a voluntary cop.

While acknowledging the differences between his current and previous regions of duty, the ex-postman maintained that a deep sense of fulfilment he has always been felt throughout his time as a Special.

Reflecting on his service so far, he concluded: “I wouldn’t change where I am now for anything else – I love it up in Cambridgeshire. It might not be as fast-paced as the Met, but it has its own unique challenges, and I feel respected and valued for my experience.

“I would always tell anyone who is considering it [becoming a Special Constable] to just do it. It opens your eyes up to the world around you and you’ll realise how important the Police are to society in a way you would never have before.”