Police recruits may have to volunteer for up to two years before they can be signed up for full service as part of a huge cost-cutting drive.
Senior police officers have been considering proposals to change the rules so only people who have served as specials can join the force.
Would-be officers may also be asked to fund their own training while also spending a minimum of up to 300 hours on the beat for free.
News of the plans emerged as police called on more people to volunteer to safeguard their neighbourhoods during National Specials Weekend.
The charge for unpaid work was led by the Metropolitan Police, which aims to more than double its specials from 3,000 to about 7,000 by 2012.
The London force is desperate for more volunteer officers to help balance the books as a huge number of people are needed to secure the Olympic Games.
Earlier this week, police leaders met to discuss plans to slash almost £500 million from the national police budget.
One of the measures on the table was to ask the 8,000 officers recruited every year to undertake the majority of their training themselves.
At the moment new officers are effectively paid to sit in a classroom for the first six months of their career.
It is understood a university-accredited course in policing and social studies has been considered to replace this training.