Civilian patrols soon, say police

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The Independent Online
EVERY POLICE force in Britain will soon have civilian patrols in streets, parks, shopping centres and estates, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers said yesterday.

Civilian and private patrols will became as "natural" as traffic wardens, John Newing, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, predicted. "You can bet that the number of these schemes is going to multiply and it will soon be a very rare force indeed that does not have such an initiative working within its boundaries."

Mr Newing's comments, in Police Review magazine, are the most frank admission yet by police chiefs that civilian patrols are set for a big expansion and will eventually form a second security force.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has already given his backing to the move, which allows extra patrols at no additional cost to the state. Both Mr Straw and the chief constables have insisted that the patrol service will be in addition to the police, not instead of it.

While the development looks increasingly inevitable, leaders of other police associations remain hostile to what their leaders believe is an attempt to get policing on the cheap.

Peter Gammon, president of the Superintendents' Association, is expected to tell the Police Federation annual conference in Blackpool next week that he is totally opposed to the introduction of civilian "neighbourhood wardens". He is expected to say: "We hear some chief officers saying it is inevitable that the private sector or other forms of uniformed organisation will take over patrolling. That's music to the ears of those who aspire to make financial gain out of the situation and of those who seek to reduce the cost of the public police."

A Home Office working group is currently drawing up a blueprint to help police forces and local authorities set up schemes throughout Britain. Mr Newing, a member of the group, said police had to gain assurances from the Home Office that the civilian and local authority patrols would only act as "ancillary" to the police and would not have any special powers to use physical force.

The patrols would also wear uniforms that were very different in colour and style from the police so that the two could not be confused.

Mr Newing suggested the "neighbourhood wardens" could deal with "minor disagreements, disputes over noise, children knocking over rubbish bins, uncontrolled pets, minor vandalism and a whole host of incivilities with which the police are unlikely to be able to deal without lots of delay".

The "wardens" are expected to be trained by the police, but paid for by local authorities and private sponsorship. They are to be drawn from the estimated 240,000 people who work in the private security industry as well as council-funded schemes and private citizens.

"In 10 years' time such wardens will seem as natural a piece of the policing scene as traffic wardens, civilian operators in police control rooms and civilian scenes-of-crime officers do now," Mr Newing said. But he added: "They do not replace the police and they do not replace the significance of patrol and interaction with the public."