Civilian agents would be given powers to perform roadside speed checks, breath tests and arrest shoplifters under proposals in a confidential report outlining the future of policing. Community support officers (CSOs) - civilians who work alongside the police after three weeks' training - could also hold identification parades, tackle noisy neighbours and run police stations.
A new squad of specialist firearms officers could also be established specifically to guard high-security targets such as the House of Commons and Buckingham Palace.
The radical proposals, in a draft report by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, were condemned by rank-and-file police as a gimmick that would undermine the professionalism of policing.
There are 3,500 CSOs patrolling in England and Wales and a further 500 are being recruited. The officers do not have police powers and are paid £18,000 a year, significantly less than a fully qualified police officer. The Inspectorate report, which is being sent to the Home Secretary, proposes a wholesale expansion in the role of civilian officers and calls for "significant and profound change'' in the police system.
Sir Ronnie proposes giving CSOs limited powers of arrest and to allow them to make investigations. The report says this could include dealing with a simple shop theft in which a CSO could detain an alleged offender, investigate, and even take a suspect to a police station.
Civilian staff could also set up roadside speed traps, stop vehicles for checks, perform breath tests on drivers and take motorists suspected of breaking the law to a police station.
Sir Ronnie also suggests allowing civilians to provide crime and fire prevention advice and serve court orders on noisy neighbours. In police stations they could work as custody officers and operate identity parades.
The report, Civilianisation/ The Use of Non-sworn Police Staff in the Police Service in England and Wales, also suggests a new type of anti-terrorist officer who would be trained only in firearms skills and protective duties. The officers would not need to undertake a comprehensive police training.
Sir Ronnie, a former chief constable of Northern Ireland, said the present system "does not meet the needs of a modern police service in the 21st century".
Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, told delegates at her organisation's annual conference in Bourne-mouth yesterday that Sir Ronnie's plans included "gimmicks'', and proposals such as giving CSOs limited power of arrest were "totally wrong and confusing to the public''.
She said: "Power of detention and search should be reserved for police officers who are accountable and independent."Reuse content