Letter: Powers to arrest

Powers to arrest

Sir: I suppose we should cease to be disappointed at the pitifully self- seeking and astonishingly ill-informed reactions from the Police Federation and Association of Magisterial Officers to the proposal to "give private security firms the power to arrest people" in breach of court judgements (report, 24 November).

The magistrates' spokeswoman stressed the superiority of the public sector for enforcing fines. Why? It appears that fines are not being collected now, so why not use the skills of debt-collecting agencies, if this can be done in a cost-effective way?

The Police Federation spokesman argues that "difficult and sometimes violent individuals" can only be successfully dealt with by the police.

He is clearly unfamiliar with the operation of hospital casualty departments on Friday nights, with city centre pubs and clubs at weekends, with benefits agency offices, with almost every public service occupation, in fact.

Understanding and dealing with violence is a skill that can be taught - and not just to the police. When he turns to the "accountability" of those empowered to arrest, recent history is not overwhelmingly on the side of the police! What it does suggest is that there is an urgent need for the Government to introduce state regulation of the security industry.

Finally, he appears to suggest that powers of arrest should remain solely with the police. We all have the right as citizens to make an arrest.

This is, in reality, the power any private security officer exercises when apprehending and detaining a shoplifter, an event that occurs many hundreds of times every day. So what makes this new proposal so mould- breaking?