Civilians' new police powers

THE full extent of moves to hand police powers to civilians - including issuing on-the-spot fines, giving lawful orders to the public and accessing confidential information - has been revealed today.

THE full extent of moves to hand police powers to civilians - including issuing on-the-spot fines, giving lawful orders to the public and accessing confidential information - has been revealed today.

Norfolk police top brass and the security firms involved say that the Home Office scheme which sees selected and carefully vetted individuals handed limited police powers will make our streets safer by “extending the police family”.

But members of the rank-and-file and magistrates fear it could lead to the dilution of traditional policing - and even the creation of third-tier “private police forces”.

Accredited individuals are able to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour and direct traffic. They can be called upon to guard crime scenes and are considering hiring out their services to carry out routine patrols in high streets. It is a criminal offence to disobey them.

However, they can only use their powers on the premises of the businesses that hire them - not to protect the wider community.

David Benfield, general secretary of the Norfolk Police Federation, said: “The natural inference is that those who can afford to pay will receive a better service than those who can't.

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“There are also issues around accountability, safety and data protection. Has this been properly investigated or is this another attempt at cost cutting by a government clearly worried about the funding of policing?

“Do they want a professional police service or do they want a wider police family which will not necessarily provide the same service?”

There are currently 50 people in Norfolk who have been given the powers, mainly security and housing staff. This is expected to rise by the end of the year. Nationally there are more than 1,400 - roughly the size of an average police force.

The scheme is also in operation in Suffolk, where street wardens, park rangers and security staff have been accredited, and Cambridgeshire, where accredited security guards run the campus at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

Chairman of Norwich magistrates Paul Allen said: “The biggest problem is that the public simply don't know about it. Why would somebody obey a lawful order from a security guard when they don't understand that they are accredited by the police?”

The scheme sees privately employed workers, mainly security and housing staff, carry police identification and wear Home Office approved badges. Their employers pay an annual subscription to Norfolk police for the privilege. They cannot arrest suspects but powers include:

- The right to issue fixed penalty notices for low-level crime and anti-social behaviour including graffiti, flyposting, dog fouling, littering and public disorder.

- Issue lawful orders and demand personal details from members of the public - disobeying can lead to prosecution.

- Access the highly confidential Police National Computer, which lists all criminal records, via a secure link.

- Manage traffic on the highways in place of officers on traffic duties.

- Access publicly-owned CCTV cameras and be included in operational police briefings.

Norfolk police has an agreement with Norwich-based security firm EventGuard to protect crime scenes during major investigations such as murders in order to free-up officers for other duties.

EventGuard managing director Nigel Briggs said the firm was looking to further extend its role and is in discussion with high street retailers to provide routine city centre patrols on a contract basis.

He added: “We can be the eyes and ears of the police and be places where it is not always possible for them to be.

“But we are constantly looking for new ways in which we can use our police powers and, as a business, it's a great selling point.”

John Howson, deputy chairman, said: “Our concern is that here we have essentially a 'third-tier' police force that is now including security guards and door supervisors. These people need to check the Police National Computer to see if the person has a criminal record. We don't think it appropriate for these people to have that access.”