Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report



52.  Probably the most controversial aspect of the Bill is to give some police powers to a new type of community support officer without full police training. This idea comes mainly from the Metropolitan Police Service and would be optional rather than compulsory for all forces. The Metropolitan Police Service wants community support officers because, they say, policing central London does not need all the skills of police officers who would be better deployed in the boroughs.[50] The powers to be given to community support officers include those of issuing fixed penalty notices relating to anti-social behaviour, requesting a name and address and detaining for a limited period. The Association of Police Authorities told us: "There is, as far as I am aware, no other part of the country [apart from London]...where there is a desire to have community support officers".[51] More recently, Lord Condon told the Lords that a dozen police forces are now keen to explore the notion of community support officers.[52]

53.  This proposal is one of a number of measures in the Bill intended to enable the police to make greater use of civilians in police operations. As well as community support officers, there is a scheme for accrediting private sector security organisations as accredited community safety organisations (ACSOs), giving police powers to civilian investigators and wider use of civilians in detention and escort roles. The most striking of these new powers would be the ability of a community support officer to detain someone for up to thirty minutes pending the arrival of a constable.[53]

54.  The Metropolitan Police Service's case is that a direct labour force of community support officers (CSOs), coming under the control and direction of police, will:

  •   provide a dedicated resource to protect London against the threat of terrorism
  •   provide a more continuous visible uniformed presence in identified public spaces in London
  •   increase the confidence of London's communities that anti-social behaviour will be challenged and
  •   help release police officers to tasks more suited to their training and skills.

55.  Various witnesses have raised concerns about these proposals:

    The Police Federation:"We see this as adding an unnecessary and unwieldy additional tier to policing, with the potential both to confuse the public and to provoke breaches of the peace. Many of the functions envisaged for the deployment of CSOs are potentially some of the most dangerous and difficult situations faced by police officers".[54]

    Police Superintendents' Association: "There is a real danger that police officers will be left to clear up the mess created by mistakes rather than being supported, and that officers will be called up to deal with low level offences rather than concentrating on other issues [as] the Government expects".[55]

    Association of Chief Police Officers: "There are bound to be issues around whether the operational gain from, say, six wardens, as against, say, four police officers would be best value or whether matters of discipline, complaints, retention, protection and the like would be disadvantageous".[56]

    The Association of Police Authorities: "I am extremely worried about giving a non police officer the power of detention because I have seen some of these street situations...there is a lot of alcohol related disorder...I could see grave problems if a non police officer had a power of detention. I could see all sorts of flash point situations arising which would in the end cause more police time to be wasted by the police having to come and deal with these problems".[57]

56.  In considering this issue, we have examined in particular the power to detain and whether it is not possible to have more police officers on the beat. On the latter, the Police Federation have urged an increase in the volunteer unpaid special constabulary from some 12,500 to 32,500. In the course of proceedings on the Bill, the Government has announced that it is looking at the possibility of paying special constables and ways of encouraging their employers to release them for public duty.[58] We have also heard from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner how the Specials are a channel of recruitment into regular police service and that this has been especially effective in attracting people from ethnic minorities into the police.[59] Although the number of regular police are planned to increase to some 130,000 by 2003, the Minister told us it was very unlikely that the Specials could be expanded by so much in such a short period of time.[60] The dilemma about community support officers is summed up by these quotations:

    "Why not more police officers?"[61]

    "I would rather have community support officers than no one".[62]

    "Do you think there will be more operational gain from four police officers or six community support officers?...the answer would be four police officers".[63]

57.  One concern raised with us by the Association of Police Authorities was that it would be possible for a Government to offer "ring-fenced" funding for community support officers which would put reluctant police authorities under financial pressure to adopt such schemes.[64] Ring-fenced funds have been provided for recruiting extra police officers under the Crime Fighting Fund.

58.  Asked about this, the Minister said: "The Bill makes it clear it is for the chief officer to decide whether he or she wishes to have community support officers as part of their force. Clause [35] of the Bill provides no mechanism for forcing a chief officer to take that decision". The Prime Minister, when asked in the House recently by Angela Watkinson MP, a Member of this Committee, whether he would give an assurance that community support officers will not be imposed on police authorities by ring-fencing or any other means, said: "Of course community support officers will not be imposed; there has never been any question of that".[65]

59.  In considering this, we have taken into account the greater use of local authority wardens under a variety of schemes in different parts of the country. The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions has described in written evidence some 200 projects for Neighbourhood and Street Wardens, involving 1,150 wardens.[66] The London Borough of Islington reports "very positive experience" with its warden scheme.[67] In Lancashire there are "some extremely innovative schemes which are working extremely well".[68] The Lords were told by a member of Thames Valley Police Authority that "Many communities...want to see their local wardens left as they are and not to exercise police powers".[69] At the same time, it would be possible for some existing warden schemes to be given some police powers under the provision for accredited community safety organisations.

60.  The power to detain someone for up to thirty minutes, pending the arrival of a police constable has attracted a range of comments. In the Lords, a former Chief Superintendent said:

    "There is not a great deal of difference between the powers of the police and the powers of the public under common law".[70]

61.  The Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities envisaged the situation in which the power to detain might be used:

    " clearly the sort of people who are going to be detained are, by their very nature, likely to be abusive or likely to be drunk or likely to be difficult people, the sort of people we see in the town centre, they are not going to be amenable presumably otherwise they are not going to be detained".[71]

62.  The Minister, on the other hand, did not think this scenario would arise:

    "I somehow doubt that a community support officer would normally be out patrolling on their own at 11.30 on a Friday night. It is perhaps possible that community support officers would be out with police officers in town centres at that time as part of a well-organised presence on the streets".[72]

63.  The Joint Committee on Human Rights has drawn the attention of both Houses to these powers, stressing the need for effective training and suggesting that the underlying aim of preventing anti-social behaviour would not be a legitimate aim for the purposes of European Convention rights.[73]

64.  Community support officers and accredited community safety organisations may increase the visible police presence on the streets. There is also a risk that they will cause confusion because members of the public may not be able to distinguish one uniform from another. Wardens do tend to wear uniforms which are not easily mistaken for the police.

65.  We recommend that the partial police powers to be vested in community support officers and accredited community safety organisations be reflected in different uniforms, so members of the public can distinguish clearly between those with full police powers and others on duty on the streets.

66.  We accept the Government's argument that in London and possibly other areas an adequate policing presence is unlikely to be achieved by the planned increase in regular and special constables and that community support officers may be the solution in certain cases.

67.  We recognise the genuine concerns about the powers to be given to community support officers, but believe that the only way of finding out whether this proposal will work is to try it. It may be that it will only ever be used by a few police forces and that the powers will need to be amended in the light of experience. Since the Metropolitan Police Service wish to try this new system, we conclude that the proposed powers for community support officers should be approved.

68.  We note that part 4 of the Bill would not compel any police force to employ community support officers. We would like to be assured that neither clause 6 (regulation of procedures and practices) nor the ring-fencing of expenditure on policing will be used to compel any police force to go down that road.

69.  The wider use of civilians in police roles is also covered by the Bill. Unison, representing police support staff outside London, welcomes this.[74] One private sector contractor has told the Committee of the potential for developing 'detention officers' into 'escort officers' taking people from the point of arrest to a central custody suite, freeing up the time of police constables.[75] Detention officers at police stations deal with people in custody—a task already involving civilians—searching them, taking fingerprints, samples and photographs, but not conducting intimate body searches. The Bill would take this role further by allowing intimate body searches to be conducted by civilian staff employed by police authorities.[76] Both the Chief Constable of Thames Valley and Reliance STMS told the Committee that they were disappointed that clause 35 (Police powers for police authority employees) makes provisions for non-police officers to carry out the detention officer role but does not appear to extend that provision to staff provided under contract.[77] Unison calls for civilian detention officers to be allowed to use reasonable force to restrain detainees.[78]

70.  We invite the Government to clarify its intentions about clause 35 (police powers for police authority employees) in respect of the detention officer role being carried out by civilian staff working under contract as well as those directly employed by police authorities. In particular, we are concerned that a drift to a 'contracting out' culture will lead to civilians with insufficient training working in poor conditions for less money while doing jobs which until recently were undertaken by police officers.

71.  Moreover, we are opposed to civilians, whether employed by the police or private companies, being given powers to assist in or undertake intimate body searches.


72.  Among the other measures in the Bill, there are two we particularly welcome. Clause 67 (nationality requirements applicable to police officers etc.) removes the existing restriction that police officers must be British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens. Anyone regardless or birth or nationality will be able to be a police constable. This measure was criticised in the Lords[79] but we share the view of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Condon:

    "Existing legislation inhibited the recruitment of many fine people who were living in this country and had done so for many years and who, in all other respects, satisfied the fit person requirements to become a police officer".[80]

73.  Part 5 of the Bill, concerning the Ministry of Defence Police, brings that force within the same disciplinary and inspection arrangements as other forces. This implements undertakings given following recommendations this Committee made during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill in November 2001.[81] The Defence Committee has also recommended this.[82] We refer in paragraph 41 above to one omission in the complaints arrangements for Ministry of Defence and British Transport police based in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

50   QQ. 6 and 64, 5 February 2002 (Sir John Stevens). Back

51   Q. 445 (Dr Henig). Back

52   Lords Hansard, 16 April 2002, col. 834. Back

53   This power was removed from the Bill in the Lords on 25 April 2002, col. 403 ff. Back

54   Police Federation briefing on the White Paper, paras 71-2 (not printed)Back

55   Police Superintendents' Association briefing on the White Paper, para. 14.3 (not printed)Back

56   ACPO briefing on the White Paper (not printed)Back

57   Q. 450 (Dr Henig). Back

58   Lords Hansard, 15 April 2002, col. 812. Back

59   Q.10, 5 February 2002 (Sir John Stevens). Back

60   Q. 581 (John Denham). Back

61   Q. 447 (Dr Henig). Back

62   Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 431 (Bns Gardner of Parkes). Back

63   Q. 49 (Sir David Phillips). Back

64   Q. 451 (Dr Henig). Back

65   Hansard, 13 March 2002, col. 888. Back

66   Ev 154. Back

67   Ev 156. Back

68   Q. 453 (Dr Ruth Henig). Back

69   Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 485 (Lord Bradshaw, a member of Thames Valley police authority). Back

70   Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 433 (Lord Mackenzie, former President of the Police Superintendents' Association). Back

71   Q. 454 (Dr Henig). Back

72   Q. 601 (John Denham). Back

73   Fifteenth Report, 2001-02, HC 706, paras. 28-44. Back

74   Ev 151. Back

75   Ev 126. Back

76   Para. 24 of part 3 of schedule 4. Back

77   Ev 126 and 134. Back

78   Ev 152. Back

79   Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 746 (Lord Renton). Back

80   Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 750 (Lord Condon, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner). Back

81   Hansard, 26 November 2001, col. 780. Back

82   First Report, 2001-02, HC 382, paras. 34 and 36. Back

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