Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Leisha Fullick, Chief Executive, London Borough of Islington

  Regarding our warden scheme, we have had a very positive experience and are in continued support of development. Indeed, our scheme is now relatively small and covers only 2,400 homes. From April 2002 we will be extending this, through co-operation with a number of Residential Social Landlords, to cover over 14,000 homes.

   The benefits of having such a scheme include the capacity building at community level, a decrease in the fear of crime and a system that feeds back information to relevant authorities quickly before disrepair or community tension falls to such a level that it is too late to present solutions.

  In March this year the Government Office for London will evaluate our scheme and a satisfaction survey will also be conducted during that period. We expect positive feedback from both processes since the scheme is well supported by all concerned in the area.

  In Islington we have improved communication with the community in the area that has the scheme, and community leaders praise the scheme, citing the links it has fostered within the community. There is a definite crime reduction role for the wardens and, perhaps to a greater extent, a community safety role since they report back on many factors such as environmental decay, abandoned vehicles, illegal dumping, graffiti and anti-social behaviour. With no current enforcement powers, their presence is more likely to displace some levels of crime than bring about dramatic reductions, however it builds their credibility and trust within the community, which are useful in encouraging community cohesion and reducing tension.

  The proposed changes in the Bill to introduce new tiers in local police forces are given a cautionary welcome. In Section 33, subsection (2A), the introduction of Community Support Officers (CSOs) in particular could add extra community policing but in our opinion, not as a replacement to the current warden provision. The two are in conflict, as building trust while exercising certain police powers do not go hand in hand, especially as seen by the youths.

  As specified in Schedule 4, Part 1, CSOs would have powers to issue fixed penalty notices over a range of offences. Amongst other powers, they would have power to detain, confiscate alcohol, tobacco and to require the name and address of a person acting in an anti-social manner. I assure you that at community levels there may be conflict, especially if they are perceived as not being trained and supervised adequately.

  Currently, controversial areas such as stop and search need to be addressed with great care, as the Metropolitan Police Force has experienced. There may be concerns in the community about the legitimacy of some of the actions taken by the new CSOs and any structure set up to investigate and discipline must be rigorous. Currently, wardens do not seize vehicles used to cause alarm, such as the scooters ridden by some young people in an anti-social manner. New CSOs would have such powers and therefore could lose the ability to patrol safely and to interact with the community at grass-roots level as wardens currently do.

  It is almost certain CSOs will not have the support and trust, as do the current wardens, especially amongst young people who will see them as a threat. Many young people involved in low-level crime and disorder do so out of peer pressure and are not, nor will ever be, hardened criminals. The current warden scheme builds relationships with many of these young people and in some cases assists them from becoming deeper involved in criminality. It is widely acknowledged that a first conviction, even for a minor offence, can trigger a downward spiral in criminal behaviour by young people. A community structure that deters criminality supported by one that combats, more forcibly, hardened criminals may be a better cocktail. However, that may not be possible within the same structure.

  Wardens with no enforcement powers have a great part to play in bringing long-term solutions to crime and community safety. They can build capacity within the community, including enabling young people to put back into their locality and be role models for their peers. They provide a locality-based visible, non-threatening force to the older residents and provide useful intelligence to landlords and utility services about levels of disrepair. Their non-threatening stance gives them credence to interact with youths, especially, and to intervene in situations that would lead to crime or disorder without criminalising youths, yet resolving issues.

  There is indeed a role for CSOs, particularly in short-term crime reduction. As a caution, and despite the inbuilt measures to ensure the role is not abused, there may be concerns at community levels about excessive use of force or abuse of powers. Uniforms may need to be distinctive from that of the police so it is clear when they are being supervised by a constable, for example, during a stop and search. The Bill does not seem to make such clear recommendations to chief police officers.

  If the wardens' role were to be changed to take on enforcement powers, they would lose credibility and the dialogue they have fostered will also be lost. They would also not have an opportunity to support changes in behaviour and attitudes of local youths, steering them away from having a criminal record.

Leisha Fullick, Chief Executive

London Borough of Islington

February 2002

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