Dozens of jobs traditionally done by the police could soon be taken over by lower paid civilian patrol officers.
The plan by Scotland Yard to create a second tier of police auxiliaries follows pressure on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, and chief constables to provide more officers on the beat, cut crime, and reduce the fear of crime. The Met hopes to attract applicants who narrowly failed to be accepted as police officers.
However Glen Smyth, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Federation representing rank-and-file officers, said the move was worrying.
"This is about cut-price policing. There's nothing you can buy that's cheap that's any good," he said. "It's a dangerous strategy and a confidence trick because at the end of the day a properly qualified, trained, and accountable police officer will have to be called to deal with a crime."
Since the 11 September terror attacks in America, the Met has had to spend millions of pounds providing 1,000 to 1,500 extra patrol officers in the centre of London every day, as well as dealing with a massive extra workload for the anti-terrorist and special branches.
For several years, chief constables and the Home Office have accepted that the only way to obtain a greater police presence, apart from extra funding, would be to introduce civilian patrols, probably paid for by local authorities.
The Met has drawn up plans to recruit and train hundreds of people to provide high-profile patrols and to tackle low-level crimes and anti-social behaviour. A Met document on auxiliaries, a project overseen by the Deputy Commissioner, Ian Blair, acknowledges that "today the Metropolitan Police Service is unable to provide a sustainable beat patrol under the preferred model of community policing".
The discussion document says: "We see such an auxiliary force as being a major contributor to public confidence and reassurance by strengthening our ability both to eradicate low- level criminality and disorder and to deal with anti social behaviour." But it warns about the possible negative reaction to "policing on the cheap". The document says: "This proposal for a police auxiliary force ... would also attract members from the minority ethnic communities and act as a method of attracting recruits into the police service."
While many of the auxiliary's roles are low priorities for beat officers, they form a vital link with the community, helping to foster good relations and to reduce the fear of crime. Police managers believe that forces should develop these services, which are the first to be cut when savings have to be made. Chief Superintendent Stephen Otter, who drew up the report, said: "This would be the first time that a force would directly employ people to carry out functions that are policing functions. But they are the low-level disorder functions that we find it increasingly difficult to deal with because of a shortage of officers." New laws will be needed to allow the civilians extra powers.
The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has indicated he supports giving patrollers extra powers including allowing them to detain a person suspected of committing an offence, and holding them until a police officer is available. At present, people can make a citizen's arrest only if they have witnessed a crime being committed.Reuse content