Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 599)



  580. Would that make a significant difference in London in particular?
  (Mr Denham) I think it could make a significant difference in many different parts of the country, to be honest. I had the privilege last year of presenting the Ferrers Awards, which is the annual awards to specials, and you had from London and other parts of the country examples of specials tackling real local problems very, very effectively. One police officer in London had sorted out a problem in a street market and had largely eliminated the petty crime which had been taking place there. Another special had done superb diversionary youth work on difficult estates in Northumberland. They have got a key role to play.

  581. You do not think we could reach the sort of Police Federation numbers? They are looking at 32,500 specials by next year.
  (Mr Denham) I think it is very unlikely we could reach that sort of number in that sort of period of time. It would be great to think we had that number of people coming forward. I think we will need to do more to revamp the image of the specials, we will need to do more work with forces to make sure their recruitment and their induction is very good and that the specials are well-supported and deployed on interesting and challenging jobs. I do not think we can achieve that in that sort of timescale, but the sense of direction is absolutely right.

Bob Russell

  582. Just continuing that point, we all agree the specials do a grand job, would you agree with me however that the pool of volunteers in society generally for all the things we look for volunteers to do is declining and therefore you are competing in a diminishing pool?
  (Mr Denham) I do not know whether it is true the number of volunteers are declining. What I do believe though is that there is potentially a much bigger pool of people who would join the specials than we have yet managed to tap into. I think we need to get the message across much more clearly that almost any community that has successfully tackled crime has required local people living in it to stand up and say, "We have had enough of this." Being a special is not the only way of doing that, you could do it through residents groups and community groups, but it is a particular way of doing it and, for a variety of reasons, I think that message has been lost over recent years and I think we need to revive it.

  583. In the same way as the Ministry of Defence has a scheme for employers of territorials, is there also a case for the Home Office to look at a similar scheme for employers encouraging staff to become specials?
  (Mr Denham) Yes there is. It is an unfortunate question because you have just asked about something which we are going to do, so I have now revealed it, and there you go. It is slightly different with the TA because you give people time off and long weekends and all those sorts of things, but I do think we could do a lot more with employers to support them in encouraging their employees to join.

  Bob Russell: I am delighted, Chairman, to help shape Government policy.

  Chairman: Community Support Officers next.

Angela Watkinson

  584. I would like to ask about Community Support Officers and their powers, but could I start off by asking you whether they are going to be an optional extra, if you like, for police authorities or are they going to be a compulsory introduction? Will the funding for them be ring-fenced in part of the police resources?
  (Mr Denham) 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 34 of the Bill provides no mechanism for forcing a chief officer to take that decision.

  585. In my own borough, for example, there are already Community Wardens employed by the Council, and their function is to patrol local areas and be the eyes and ears of the police force, albeit only between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, which perhaps is not the optimum time for finding criminals, but they do have a useful function to perform. Would you agree that if there was then another layer of Community Support Officers there would be likely confusion amongst members of the public as to the role of all these individuals?
  (Mr Denham) No, I do not think so. Certainly being able to co-operate even more closely with the neighbourhood and street wardens and similar non-police groups is very important, and I think the accreditation system which we set out in the Bill will be very useful in enabling those people to be drawn together as part of the extended police family. I know it is the view of the Metropolitan Police, who have particularly been keen on Community Support Officers, that there is a role for a new type of police employee carrying out a range of patrolling duties, and provided uniform and things of that sort are sorted out sensibly there should be no difficulty in the public identifying who is doing what. Most neighbourhood and street warden schemes I have come across have a very distinctive dress but it is usually very casual dress—typically a sweatshirt or something of that sort - and we are talking really about an insignia they would carry if they are an accredited person working with the police. I think we would anticipate that Community Support Officers would be more like traffic wardens in terms of their public visibility, ie distinctively uniformed but distinctively not police officers.

  586. Can I press a little further on the distinction between the powers to detain and the powers of arrest. It is proposed that Community Support Officers will have the power to detain for disorderly conduct for a period of 30 minutes. The power to detain without the power to arrest is something which the police do not have at the moment. Can you foresee difficult circumstances arising where somebody who is behaving in a disorderly manner in public is detained for 30 minutes, which I think would be quite a difficult thing to do anyway, but at the end of that period, what happens? Presumably a fully qualified police officer will have to be summoned in order to make an arrest at the end of that period, or would they then have to let the person go? Are they going to have to declare at the moment of detention that it will only be for a period of 30 minutes?
  (Mr Denham) This is obviously a very important point. What we have tried to do in the Bill is to set out as clearly as possible the roles and powers of Community Support Officers. The legal position is quite interesting in that every single one of us here has the power of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, we have the power under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act of 1967 to use reasonable force to prevent a crime, and we have a common law right to arrest people to prevent a breach of the peace. So I suppose you could have approached Community Support Officers by saying, "Let's just employ these people and train them up in their civilian powers of arrest and using reasonable force." I think that would have been regarded by most people as unsatisfactory as an approach. What we have tried to say on the face of the Bill is, "This is the role we expect these people to be carrying out." Clearly nobody, certainly not the police chiefs we have talked to, would intend deploying Community Support Officers by sending them out to catch people, to use the 30 minute power of detention, and then get a police officer along, but it is obviously the case that in the course of their duties the need to detain somebody may arise. What we had to look at was, what is a reasonable length of detention and should you go as far as giving the power of arrest. Our view is that the power of arrest has a whole series of consequences, somebody is taken to a police station, they are booked into custody, they are interviewed following that and may well be charged; quite a long and important process is triggered by the power of arrest. Our view is that that is something which should be exercised by a fully sworn constable, which is why we want a constable to attend. So you have I think to give the CSO a more limited power, and that is why we have settled on 30 minutes and the ability to use reasonable force. We have had some representations to make that period of time longer and there clearly is a balance to be struck between the length of time for which somebody can be detained and the reasonable expectation there would be that a police officer would be able to attend. Our view at the moment is that 30 minutes would appear to be a reasonable balance between the operational realities of getting a police officer to attend if summoned by the CSO and the desirability of not putting too long an extension of time for detention on the face of the Bill. We have developed this whole approach very closely with the Metropolitan Police Service in particular. I am glad we have done that because it will be chief officers who are responsible for the training and the deployment of these staff and therefore for training them on how to handle themselves in circumstances when they might use this power.

  587. Would you like to elaborate on the term "reasonable force"? It is quite a subjective term, is it not?
  (Mr Denham) This is one where I think I should rely on the lawyers. The term "reasonable force" is used elsewhere in law. I would strongly suspect that it has been tested in the courts in the past. What we have used is precisely the same formulation here as applies to police officers in the course of their duties, but I would be happy to follow that up, Chairman, if it would be helpful to come back to the Committee on how that term may have been interpreted by the courts in the past.[9]

  Chairman: Thank you.

Angela Watkinson

  588. The purpose of the period of 30 minutes is to enable a police officer to attend?
  (Mr Denham) To enable a police officer to attend and take the final decision as to whether the individual should be arrested and taken into custody.

  589. Assuming being a Community Support Officer will be a full-time post, can you speculate as to what sort of person will be attracted to that and why they would not wish to be a fully-fledged police officer?
  (Mr Denham) There may, of course, be some who will go into the job to get to know the Police Service, to decide if they do want to apply to be a police officer, but the role of the CSO, with its emphasis on patrolling, assisting the police, dealing with minor disorder issues, is substantially of a very different nature from the full responsibilities of a police officer. A police officer would be routinely called upon in road traffic accidents, armed incidents, sudden death, public order disputes, dealing with serious violent criminal gangs, a whole range of activities which make a police officer's job a difficult and dangerous job, and they fall outside the functions for which people want the Community Support Officer, for which the Police Service in London has argued. I think there will be a set of people who do not feel able to take on or want to take on the full responsibilities of a police constable but nonetheless will want to work with the Police Service as part of the reassurance and public presence of that service to the public.

  590. One of the proposals is to give Community Support Officers the powers to deal with, for example, somebody who drops litter but not the theft of a mobile phone, for example, which would be an arrestable offence. What does the term "deal with" mean? How would you interpret that?
  (Mr Denham) What we have done in the legislation is to give CSOs specific powers which relate, sometimes to measures in this Bill but primarily to established legal powers, for example, fixed penalty notices for littering and dog fouling and so on, and the legal powers of the CSO apply to those pieces of legislation. So "deal with" in the narrow legal sense means they would have fixed penalty notice powers over, for example, dog fouling or littering or whatever. We would also expect CSOs to be able to do a wide range of other activities which would be useful in support of the police as well as issuing fixed penalty notices.

  591. Could you say something about the planned training for CSOs? Would it be, for example, a different course at police college or would they be trained in police stations? How do you envisage that taking place?
  (Mr Denham) The new Central Police Training and Development Agency, which comes into being in early April this year, will be looking very much at the training requirements for CSOs. It is a little too early, I think, to set out in detail precisely how that training is going to be provided. People obviously have to be trained in how to use these powers we have been discussing, in first aid, in safety, in their anti-social behaviour role. We would expect them to be able to act as professional witnesses, for example, a very important role because often local residents are unwilling to come forward. There is the whole agenda of the Lawrence Inquiry, of diversity, of understanding the needs of different communities and so on, all that will have to be covered, but it is too early I think to say exactly how it will be delivered. We will need to work very closely with the Police Service because I think the fundamental thing to recognise here is that the chief constables will be as responsible for the conduct, well-being, training and deployment of CSOs as they are for police officers, and I think the chief constables will want to assure themselves that the training is adequate to produce the people who are going to have this job.

  Angela Watkinson: Thank you very much.


  592. There has not been a lot of support for CSOs, has there?
  (Mr Denham) It is primarily from the Metropolitan Police. They are the people who came forward with the idea in the early summer and pushed very strongly for this and, I do not mind saying, persuaded us this is the right way forward. I think the events of 11 September, when the Metropolitan Police Service had to put thousands of people on the streets to reassure the public in patrolling roles—a job which many police officers found deeply frustrating after the novelty wore off because they are trained, professional police officers, they did not primarily join up for walking around Westminster and Canary Wharf reassuring the public—convinced them that roles like that could be played by the CSOs to free up the police for other activities which are obviously important. But there are other forces which are now talking about CSOs in the future. Whilst a handful of people have declared outright opposition to the idea, I think the majority of the Police Service wants to see how the Metropolitan Police and one or two other places get on with it and learn from their experience.

  593. So the likely scenario is that they will be piloted in London?
  (Mr Denham) I think London. I understand that Surrey and Northamptonshire are the other two forces which have expressed an interest, but I do not think they have committed themselves to do it in the way Sir John Stevens has done in London.

  594. On the powers of detention, which is the one where most of the concerns have been raised, this 30 minutes, where did the 30 minutes come from?
  (Mr Denham) Discussions essentially with the Police Service to try and set the right balance between what I think would be quite difficult, which would be to give an untime-limited power of detention using reasonable force until whenever a police officer got there, and having a time period which was so short that operationally you could not reasonably expect a police officer to come.

  595. Discussions with the Police Service?
  (Mr Denham) Yes.

  596. That is a bit odd because most of the Police Service seem to be against the whole idea.
  (Mr Denham) The Metropolitan Police in particular have worked most closely with us on the development of the CSO legislation.

  597. Right. The Police Superintendents asked, "What happens at 31 minutes?"
  (Mr Denham) If the time limit runs out, the time limit runs out, so you would normally expect the person to be released. There is an issue, as I mentioned earlier, of the wider citizen's powers which exist in common law and in some legislation anyway, but I am very anxious not to encourage the idea that the main aim of these people is to be trained up to use a citizen's powers of arrest. We have tried to prescribe the role of the CSO in a fairly limited manner quite deliberately.

  598. The Federation say, "Giving CSOs the power to detain by force but not to arrest would therefore be a new power which not even police officers currently have."
  (Mr Denham) Police officers have the power to arrest, which is the reason why the law was constructed in that way. The question really is, do we want these people to be able to exercise the full powers of arrest in the course of their normal employment. Our judgment is that the role which is conceived for them is one where that would be taking their powers too far, further than we intend and further than those who want to have CSOs want to go in deploying them.

  599. The Chairman of the Police Authorities' Association said, "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." What do you say to that?
  (Mr Denham) I would say to that that the chief officer of the force which deploys the CSOs is responsible for the way in which they exercise their power and training. I think we can be reasonably assured that chief officers who decide to have CSOs on their force will make sure they are deployed in ways where the powers are effectively used. No chief officer is going to encourage a set of CSOs to be out there getting themselves into difficulty and tying down the time of police officers. Some of the discussion, frankly, about this has been as though the CSOs will be employed and then unleashed on a town or city to wander the streets doing what on earth they want as though there are no constraints over their powers. I really do not think that is going to happen. These are accountable members of the Police Service.

9   See Appendix, Ev 165. Back

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