Extra tier of police officers proposed: Local authorities could finance patrols of trouble spots

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The Independent Online
LOCAL COUNCILS could pay for an extra 'tier' of police officers to patrol trouble spots within their areas, under proposals in an independent inquiry published today.

Beat constables, whose training and wages would be less than those of existing officers, would be able to arrest people for offences such as drunkenness, theft or vandalism, and to stop and search for stolen goods and weapons.

This suggestion, which has the support of the Chief Constable of Hampshire, is among proposals for reforms to the police service, which is coming under increasing pressure to cut costs and combat rising crime. Unless changes are made there is a danger of 'anarchic' private security companies and an increasingly powerful police force emerging, the report concludes.

The creation of 'designated patrol officers' would free more highly trained police and satisfy the increasing public demand for more officers on the beat, says the inquiry, which was set up by the independent research groups, the Police Foundation and Policy Studies Institute,

John Hoddinott, Chief Constable of Hampshire and a member of the inquiry team, said several district councils throughout the country had offered to pay 'thousands of pounds' to the police for extra officers, but that rules prohibited their deployment.

Mr Hoddinott said he would support moves to allow councils to pay for extra officers. 'Providing it remained under police control this would be a democratic method of allowing the public to have a say about the service they wanted.'

The report also suggests that resources may be better used if some police tasks were hived off to special task forces. Civilian officers, who would act under the direction of the police, could come from private security companies, the council or public, says the committee in its discussion document, the Independent Committee of Inquiry into the Role and Responsibilities of the Police.

Such work could include tasks such as delivering summonses or checking for under-age people in pubs and off-licences. All civilian staff would have to operate with strict legal guidelines.

The Home Office is carrying out a review of the police's core and ancillary tasks to indentify which services could be farmed out to private companies and local authorities.

The committee warns that changes are urgently needed. It says: 'Spurred by high levels of crime and the limits of the public purse the police face great and increasing pressure for change.

'If present trends continue there is a danger that we may end up with the worst of all possible worlds: an increasingly central ised police force with ever growing powers alongside the anarchic emergence of unregulated self- help and private police and security services in the hands of those pursuing sectional interests.'

The inquiry committee yesterday stressed that all its proposals now need wider public debate. It intends to hold meetings in the autumn. A final report is expected in the spring, shortly after the Home Office is expected to complete its review of the police.

Independent Committee of Inquiry into the Role and Responsibilities of the Police; The Police Foundation, 1 Glyn Street, London SE11 5HT; free.