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
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