Council patrols `key to future of policing'

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

More council-run patrols and private security guards are needed to act as the "eyes and ears" of the police, an independent inquiry has concluded.

Sweeping changes are needed to the police if the service is to cope with the growing crime rate and increasing public demand for officers on the beat, says the report published today by an influential committee that includes two chief constables.

It also calls on the Government to bring in legislation to regulate the booming private security industry.

The suggestions come a week after the Audit Commission published a report saying that there was an insatiable public demand for bobbies on the beat and that out of the average police force of 2,500 only 125 of them were on patrol at any one time.

One of the central recommendations of today's report is for local authorities to carry out more trials with their own uniformed patrols and security guards, and for a relaxation of the rank structure to allow more flexible policing. It cites the council-run security patrol force in Sedgefield, Co Durham, as a possible model.

It also advocates more radical experimentation and gives two Dutch examples. In one case city wardens, who carry radios but have no special powers, are used in 26 Dutch cities.

In the second, some police forces in the Netherlands have appointed officers with the title "politiesurveillant", or police patroller, which is a rank below that of the ordinary constable.

It also suggests having part time officers to work at times of high demand, such as when children leave school and at pub closing time, and greater use of volunteer policemen and women known as Specials. However, the report, The Role and Responsibilities of the Police, stresses that it is against establishing a two-tier policing system in the United Kingdom.

The study, set up by the Police Foundation and the Policy Studies Institute, says that alternatives are needed because "it has become increasingly clear that the police can only have a relatively limited impact on aggregate crime statistics and, indeed, that the whole criminal justice apparatus can only ever be one part in an overall strategy to reduce crime".

As part of the strategy the inquiry recommends statutory regulation of the private security industry in which all firms would be licensed by an independent authority, who would vet guards and investigate any complaints.

Last year the all-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee made a similar recommendation, but the Government has so far refused to act.

The inquiry says that police forces should become more flexible and more of a "learning organisation", which would include greater investment in new technology, sharing more information and giving more responsibility and power to lower-rank officers.

Sir John Cassels, chairman of the committee, said a good example of a learning organisation was British Airways or Nissan in Japan, in which front-line staff are encouraged to show initiative and pass on their skills.

The report calls for new legislation to force all local authorities to draw up safety plans for their communities.

The inquiry's findings have been sent to the Home Secretary, all police forces and local authorities.

t The Role and Responsibilities of the Police; pounds 8; The Independent Committee of Inquiry, 1 Glyn St, London SE11 5RA.