Police condemn council estate patrols

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The Independent Online
POLICE OFFICERS and opposition MPs yesterday condemned as 'crazy and dangerous' plans by a flagship Tory London borough to extend patrols by parks police to stop vandalism and minor crime on its council estates.

The 19,000-strong Police Federation, representing ranks from constables to inspectors, said it was part of a move towards a two- tier police force by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who is reviewing police duties.

The federation accused Mr Howard of seeking 'low-cost alternatives to the police' by calling for neighbourhood watch schemes to be extended to street patrols.

The borough, which has pioneered radical Conservative policies, confirmed it was planning to extend its squad of 36 parks police, who are sworn-in special constables, to patrol for the first time outside the parks. They have powers to arrest, take evidence, including fingerprints, and carry out paperwork for charging suspects.

The parks police would be deployed on council estates to combat vandalism, graffiti, and minor crime. The costs would be met by higher council rents.

The council is seeking the approval of the Home Office but sources there said the parks police would have no more powers than the ordinary citizen if they operated outside the parks.

But that view is disputed by Wandsworth council. Its legal advisers have interpreted a 1967 Act on Greater London parks to mean that their powers could be extended to open spaces around estates owned by the council without the need for new legislation.

The results of Mr Howard's review of police duties were due to be announced before the Tory party conference in October but have been strongly resisted by the Federation and are not now expected until early next year.

Robert Maclennan, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, said: 'There is a real danger that this sort of initiative will lead to fewer real police officers on the beat.'

The Association of Chief Police Officers said: 'Patrolling is one of the most difficult jobs which police officers are asked to undertake . . . We train officers for six months before allowing them out on the streets.'

Home Office officials made it clear that Mr Howard, who is in South America, would treat the Wandsworth plan with caution. He wanted 'vigilance not vigilantes', said a source. However, he has not ruled the scheme out.

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