Hospital trusts, shopping malls and local authorities will be able to hire their own police officers in the future, chief constables have decided.
In one of the biggest changes to police deployment, police chiefs have also agreed in principle to help councils run their own private security patrols by training and vetting guards.
The moves, which will result in more officers on the beat, are expected to lead to higher policing levels in rich areas and could also produce a two-tier security system. The decision to allow extra "paid-for police" is likely to be criticised as providing two different services - one for the rich, another for the poor. However, chief constables argue that it will not affect existing services and is the only practical way of getting more bobbies on the beat without extra government funds.
The schemes, which were agreed in principle by representatives from all 42 police forces in England and Wales at a private seminar last Friday, are expected to be announced at the Association of Chief Police Officers' summer conference in July. They have yet to be ratified by Acpo's council, but there is widespread support. Under the changes, the police will provide extra officers to any organisation that pays providing it is in the public good and the body is publicly accountable.
Keith Povey - Chief Constable of Leicestershire, and chairman of Acpo's patrol working committee, which is drawing up national guidelines - said this would include NHS trusts wanting extra security for their hospitals and grounds, and shopkeepers seeking more patrol officers in their vicinity.
But the biggest providers are expected to be district and parish councils wanting to employ a village beat officer or more patrols on problem estates.
The organisations seeking extra protection would probably have to sign a three- or five-year contract to guarantee payment. Chief constables would also have the right to redeploy the officers in an emergency.
The cost of hiring a constable for a year would be about £15,000 - the basic wage.
Mr Povey said: "We want more officers on the beat, but our resources don't allow us to do that, so we have had to consider other methods of filling the gap. The ethical issue with this scheme is that if you pay more you get more. However, it will result in extra officers providing a public benefit."
The changes are made possible under the new Police and Magistrates Act, which allows police authorities to accept grants to provide an extra service. Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank- and-file officers, said: "It means that those who can pay will get extra protection. It would be far better to have a properly funded police service."
In a move that is likely to cause great debate within the police service, delegates at last week's meeting also agreed in principle to co-operate with local authorities that employ their own security guards.
In future the police will probably provide training and vet would-be guards to ensure they do not have a criminal record.
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