Letter: Unaccountability of private police

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The Independent Online
Sir: The proposal by Wandsworth Council to extend the role of its Parks Constabulary to council housing estates serves to emphasise the wish by the public to see more police officers on the street. This strong desire is leading to some dubious security companies offering a patrol service to householders for payment. Both developments should concern the public since such organisations lack the comprehensive training, accountability and sophisticated support of a modern police service. In the case of some of the security organisations there is even greater concern, since they are not regulated in any manner and there is nothing to stop active criminals setting themselves up as a security company. The complex task of patrolling our streets and dealing with the huge range of policing problems that can arise is one for the public police service.

It is ironic at a time when the public is crying out for more police officers that we have seen a government freeze on police recruiting for three years. It has been reported that the Wandsworth Parks Constabulary costs some pounds 750,000 a year for 32 officers. For the same money, a similar number of professional public police officers could be provided.

Crime figures in the past few months have shown a slight downturn in many parts of Britain. Although it is too early to be sure of the trend, there are some grounds for modest optimism. The level of crime is affected by a variety of factors, but the improvement in the position as a result of police efforts (against a background of a criminal justice system widely regarded as inadequate and a level of policing that has increased only marginally in the past 10 years) shows what could be achieved with a modest increase in resourcing. The public appears to be willing to pay for security companies or private police forces to carry out patrolling in public areas. Such arrangements can never be 'much cop', and it is perhaps time that we looked for a firm commitment from politicians to provide the professional resources needed to protect the community.

From April next year, when new legislation takes effect, local councils will be able to provide funds to top up local police budgets to allow for additional policing. Those councils with funds that they are considering spending on some second-class policing option could seriously consider this way forward.

Yours faithfully,

R. WHITE

Chief Constable

Dyfed-Powys Police

Carmarthen

26 August

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