Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)

THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2002

MRS JAN BERRY AND MR CLINT ELLIOTT

  200. You have mentioned a whole plethora of various security people a variety of peaked cap people in uniform. Has the Police Federation had any experience yet of confusion amongst the public as to what is a police officer and what is a private security guard?
  (Mrs Berry) Certainly there have been complaints going into police stations where people purporting to be police officers have stopped vehicles, have issued on the spot fines, etc, but then again I cannot say that has happened more recently than previously. There have always been people in society who see an opportunity to deceive others.

  201. You will be aware, of course, that the private security industry already plays, as you have indicated, a major role in community safety: shopping centres, special events, private premises. Would you not agree there is an advantage in having an accreditation scheme to promote best practice so hopefully to remove some of the fears and worries that you have expressed?
  (Mrs Berry) Again I think that we acknowledge the role that private security might play in shopping centres and the like but we believe, also, there is a distinction between that and the extension of police powers to them. We do not believe that they need the extension of police powers.
  (Mr Elliott) Can I just add to that? The cases you have quoted are on private premises predominantly, in fact exclusively: private parties, private shopping malls. These proposals are talking about these people having powers in the public domain which we think is a step too far. People to a degree have a choice to go on private premises or not, knowing what security arrangements there are there but they do not have a choice particularly to walk the streets with Community Support Officers wandering about.

  202. I may do a devil's advocate here and could I just pursue this point? Would you wish to see police officers clearly identified with some sort of distinction—I am trying to point out that at dusk and night time whether it is in a public place or a private place my concern, and I welcome your views, is that the public could be confused as to who is a bona fide police officer and who is not?
  (Mr Elliott) I think that is part of the point we have been making. It is interesting in a force in the North East last year the chief constable tried to do a survey about "When did you last see a police officer". Because there are so many people dressed similarly to a police officer it was difficult for some people when they actually saw a police officer to say "Oh, there is one". There were quite a lot of people about and clearly in the survey there were mistaken identities between the police and some forms of security and private security.

  203. You will be aware, of course, that many former police officers have either started up their own private security firms or work for private security firms. Is that good news or bad news? How do you feel that affects the private security industry having so many former police officers working for them?
  (Mr Elliott) It is good news for the individuals who have got the job. People do not like to retire too young in the police service. I am not so sure it is that good for the service.

  204. Just a small point. We have discovered that traffic wardens in the past have not been given the power to stop vehicles. Bearing in mind there are still a few traffic wardens around, is it good news that they will now have this power?
  (Mr Elliott) There are concerns that Jan suggested about the fact that quite a lot of traffic wardens now are not employed by the police, they are employed by local authorities. That will be a concern for us.

  205. In your experience in the Police Federation is the view that the privatised traffic wardens are income generators rather than there to assist with parking and the free movement of traffic?
  (Mrs Berry) That is certainly an allegation which has been made. Certainly sometimes complaints are made at police stations along those very lines. That gives us another job to try and solve.

Mr Malins

  206. Traffic wardens still. Section 37 which according to the note enables traffic wardens to be given the same powers to stop vehicles as that currently held by police officers, that is what it says. Can you tell me what you think that means because I am unclear?
  (Mr Elliott) Police officers currently have the ability to stop any vehicle in the street. I presume it means exactly that.

  207. Yes.
  (Mr Elliott) The police officer might stop a vehicle for a variety of reasons. I am a little unclear as to how many reasons a traffic warden would wish to stop a car for.

  208. I agree with you. In fact Sir David Phillips said last week that he believed the same thing, a general power to stop for moving traffic offences I think.
  (Mr Elliott) I think a police officer in uniform has the power to stop a vehicle on the road for any reason ostensibly to check for moving traffic offences. You could check that the person has got a driving licence, all those sorts of issues. I am not sure exactly why a traffic warden would want that power.

  209. We are both in agreement that it looks as if it gives traffic wardens the same powers, which Sir David said in his view meant allows them to deal with moving traffic offences. Can I ask you this: a traffic warden waves a vehicle to stop and discovers that the driver is roaringly drunk, do you think that means the Bill is intending that traffic wardens are going to require a breathalyser or "on your way home, sir, I cannot do anything about it"?
  (Mr Elliott) The Bill is silent on that. I cannot see that that was the intention of the Bill. I am not sure what the intention of the Bill is in this respect. Equally, the traffic warden would not have the power to detain the individual, as I see it.

  210. Quite. Sir David says "I would have to refer to the section but my interpretation, and I may be wrong about this, is it allows them to deal with moving traffic offences". In a way that cannot be right because they have got no powers anywhere to carry out any of these functions.
  (Mr Elliott) That is absolutely right. I cannot see just simply the power to stop a vehicle gives traffic wardens the power to deal with what is quite a wide range of road traffic offences and some quite complicated road traffic offences. If you look at our traffic department, quite a lot of people there are experts in a particular area, the particular types of vehicles, the particular offences on vehicles. It is quite a complex area of law.

  211. I know you are not going to get very far on this but do you think that it is going to give them powers to deal with issuing a fixed penalty on the spot notice for crossing a red traffic light or speeding? What do you think is meant by it?
  (Mr Elliott) You are pushing me on an issue that I am not sure on myself. To say that running a red light is a fixed penalty offence, red traffic light offences usually turn out to be quite contentiously fought, usually because people say "I went through on amber".

  212. The wording in the explanatory notes "it thereby enables traffic wardens to be given the same power to stop vehicles as that currently held by police officers" to me seems a nonsense and it seems to me that you probably take the same view.
  (Mr Elliott) I do. The only reason I can see them stopping somebody would be that they were badly parked over there and they did not get a chance to put the ticket on before they drove away. I cannot see anything beyond that without giving them some additional powers, which they do not appear to have in the Bill.

  213. They could not have additional powers, could they, as untrained traffic wardens to run through the whole breathalyser procedure, to run through the whole Road Traffic Acts?
  (Mrs Berry) I think there may be some situations where giving traffic wardens the power to stop vehicles is meant to release police officers for other duties, particularly where they are directing traffic for long periods of time. Because traffic wardens do not have the power to stop, albeit they are used on many occasions to direct traffic, that does cause problems and I think this may be a clause to try and overcome that particular problem so that police officers are not the only people who have the power to stop. It does obviously open the door for other positions to take place later if that was the wish of Parliament.
  (Mr Elliott) That would be quite limited. It might be for a purpose.

Mr Cameron

  214. I want to ask a question that came up thinking about Mr Winnick's questions. If we all want to see more police on the streets and you do not like the Community Support Officer concept, what is the Federation's view on civilianisation? It was very striking last week that a witness said in New York there are 40,000 police officers but 45,000 support staff and in London there are only 26,000 officers and half as many support staff. If you do not like CSOs, would you be prepared to see quite a big increase in civilian support at police stations?
  (Mrs Berry) I think that is right. It was probably the Police Federation who began the analogy with New York. We drew attention to the differences in numbers of police officers in New York last May and the number of police officers in London. I think it is true to say that there are roles, and there are a number of pilots taking place at the moment, where the police officer is required to stay in the police station after an arrest but they are getting back out on the street quicker by support staff taking on the bureaucratic paper filling. That has worked very successfully in some forces and I think some of the plans from the Bill are to extend that throughout all police forces. I think in that respect it could be helpful. What is very certain is that for a long period of time we had a situation where the number of police officers was being reduced. There was a u-turn in about August 2000 but even though you might decide in August 2000 that the reductions have gone too far and we now have to recover that situation, it takes an awful long time for the u-turn to be completed. The Metropolitan Police are still a lot of numbers down on what they should be.

Chairman

  215. Wait a minute. On what they were or what in your opinion they should be?
  (Mrs Berry) Even what they are planned to be. They are still down on the targeted figures.

  216. They are not down on what they were, are they, they have gone up?
  (Mrs Berry) They have gone up, but it depends—

  217. If they have gone up you ought to say they have gone up.
  (Mrs Berry) It depends from what base we are talking about and which month we are talking about.

  218. Is there a time when they have been higher?
  (Mrs Berry) I think there has been a time. Certainly in 1997 they were higher from the figures we have from December 2001. There are a lot of figures being bandied about in the media at the moment which I do not think is always very helpful because very rarely are we all comparing the same figures. They change on a monthly basis. Sometimes we are using Metropolitan figures, sometimes we are using Home Office figures, and they are changing. It takes about 18 months from the time a police officer is actually recruited before we start to get a return on that investment. Up until that period of time they are in training and they are probably taking another police officer along with them so you are actually reducing your capacity. So at a time when the Police Service is going through a huge recruiting campaign it is actually reducing our capacity on the streets because you are having to use more and more tutor officers. Going back to your original question, we believe that far more investment has to be made for professional police officers on the street and in the longer term that will have an impact on crime, not just at the serious end of crime—we take the point you were making earlier—but also very few Mr Bigs in the criminal world get there without starting off committing low level crime. It is important that the Police Service has a strategy for dealing with the whole raft of criminal activity and not just focusing on Mr Big.

Mr Cameron

  219. Thank you for that. A general question. It strikes me that given there is nothing about civilianisation in this Bill and given that you think CSOs, which is the big idea, are the wrong officers arresting people in the wrong place, in the wrong way, keeping them there until the right person turns up, the police constable, and then he or she cannot do anything—that is what you said to Mr Winnick—given all of that, what is it in this Bill, which is mainly about structure, which is actually going to improve policing and make the job of policing easier, better and have more of them? Is there anything you can point to in the 109 pages that will actually make a difference?
  (Mrs Berry) The police reform programme probably goes further and beyond what is required to be gone through statutorily. There are proposals for improved leadership in the Police Service, that does not necessarily need to go through an Act of Parliament. There are proposals for having improved co-ordination of science and technology arrangements, not all of that needs to go through primary legislation.


 
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